Building connections Marlboro-based Surepath helps companies navigate complicated steps in development process

Here’s the first thing you need to know about Surepath Construction, a small, family-run business in Marlboro approaching its 10th anniversary: It doesn’t actually do any construction.

Here’s the second thing you need to know about Surepath Construction: If your business is looking to do an addition, and you don’t know anything about the construction process, you might want to call them.

At least that’s the way founder and principal Andrew Messinger sees it.

After nearly two decades in the construction business, Messinger felt there was a need for a company that could help others through the development process, so he went out on his own.

Surepath, Messinger said, is in the business of facilitating construction.

“We’ll do estimates and do bid out the job for them because, surprisingly, companies don’t really have a good construction-bidding process,” he said. “We write all the bidding documents, analyze the bids.”

Sometimes, the process stops there, Messinger said, but, often times, Surepath’s involvement continues.

“The client either doesn’t have the personnel or doesn’t build that kind of project a lot, and they’d like us to stay on board,” he said. “What we do then is help them run their construction project as, really, an extension of their company.”

Surepath also aids early in the process by logistically deciding where trucks enter the site and staging the construction, but it can also provide input as early as the design stage.

“We’re in early design and conceptual meetings, and we’re able to give input about the most effective way of doing things,” he said. “We try to help guide our clients and design team to what the proper thing is.”

Messinger said these conversations are where his team’s experience can really pay off for its clients.

“Sometimes, designers have their own vision for what something should be, whether it conforms to what their clients are looking for or not,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s a difficult balance of making sure all those different things meet the requirements of what your client is looking to bid.”

Surepath would not release revenue numbers, but Messenger says he is making money, something that wasn’t so certain when he left a secure senior position at Turner Construction to go out on his own. He did so at a time that turned out to be one of the worst years to start a company: 2007. Or right before the economic downturn.

Biz in brief
Company: Surepath Construction
Founder: Andrew Messinger
Founded: 2007
Employees: 3
Headquarters: Marlboro

“I’d always wanted to own my own company and I decided the time was right,” Messinger said. “Everyone said I was crazy and, had I known what was going to happen with the crash, I probably would not have left.

“But I did and just rolled the dice.”

Surepath itself is small, still just three people after nearly 10 years in business, but Messinger said that has its benefits, such as very low overhead.

“It was all self-funded, which sounds very impressive, but there wasn’t a lot of funding there anyway,” he said.

It also makes the company pliable and nimble when accepting jobs, even to the point of adopting a company’s practices to ease the process.

“We’re able to conform to how our clients want us to do business,” he said. “Sometimes, we’re able to use their systems or forms they have and we don’t have to say, ‘No, we only do things this way’ like some of the bigger companies might say.”

Messinger cites this ability as a characteristic that helped navigate the difficult first years of being a new company during a sluggish economy.

“I think we actually, unfortunately, benefited from the economy because there were projects that were ongoing and bigger companies had started laying off some of their staff,” he said, “but they still needed work done.

“Here we were, a professional construction company that could run jobs and, after the contract was up, we would just go away,” he said. “So, I started getting calls for these little jobs that had to be done where they’d laid off most of their in-house construction personnel.

“And I think that’s how we survived.”

Even though the company was able to navigate the industry during its first years, it wasn’t until 2010 that Messinger knew his company had made it.

He’d received a phone call from an old client at Turner Construction who needed representation on a large project.

It was Novartis, and the project was the expansion of its large campus in East Hanover.

“They did a full campus expansion and I was called very early to help with that,” he said. “They could literally hire anybody that they wanted and they hired me, so that was one of those ‘Wow’ moments.”

That type of business development isn’t unusual for Surepath.

After nearly 10 years in business, Surepath Construction still finds jobs the old fashioned way: by reputation.

“We don’t have a marketing budget, we don’t do interviews,” he said. “So, all of our work is through word-of-mouth, through people that have worked with us who recommend us to somebody else.”

To back up the reputation, Messinger said, there’s a confidence in the abilities and experience of his small staff.

“We’re very highly trained and professional, and a lot of the small companies aren’t like that,” he said. “We have a different background and are able to do things that other companies can’t.”

E-mail to: [email protected]
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj

Good sports Schafers’ athletic center is ready to roll

It was the proverbial long road full of detours and roadblocks. But after 11 years of planning, anticipation and every headache imaginable, Schafer Sports Center finally cut the ribbon on its new 37,800-square-foot Ewing facility in August.

And co-owners Jonathan Schafer and Shannon Schafer couldn’t be happier.

“I’m grateful that we are finally here,” Shannon Schafer said. “I can tell you that I won’t be building anything else anytime soon.”

And, according to the Schafers, the investment in time and money — the budget for the project was $3.6 million — looks like it may ultimately pay off.

With the expansion, the company has created whole new offerings and revenue streams that have already generated a lot of interest.

Take, for instance, the new indoor turf field designed for soccer and lacrosse. According to Shannon Schafer, that space is already booked from open to close on Sundays through March.

“In the last two and a half weeks, every time available on this turf has been secured by soccer leagues,” she said. “On Sundays starting on Nov. 20, this turf will be used from 7:30 in the morning until 11 at night, and that’s only with adult soccer.”

Biz in brief
Company: Schafer Sports Center
Founder: Jonathan Schafer
Founded: 1988
Headquarters: Ewing
One last thing: Jonathan Schafer opened the facility in 1988, the same year as the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. “It’s always a good year to open a gymnastics school: I think we had expected 200 kids to start, and we had 450.”

The new facility also includes an indoor pool that she believes will generate a whole new healthy opportunity for steady clientele because of the high demand for swimming classes.

“If you run a swimming program half-decently with three things — hot water, shallow pools so your teachers can stand and you have a thought-out curriculum — you’ll get a lot more kids in your swim program than in your gymnastics program,” Jonathan Schafer said. “That’s simply because everybody wants their child to swim, where only about 10 percent of kids do gymnastics.”

The company offers swimming lessons for kids as young as 6 weeks old, but it also plans to expand into swimming classes for seniors.

“We’re going to be launching a seniors program during the daytime because it’s warm water and it’s not being used in the daytime,” Sharon Schafer said. “There’s no other senior center around here, so we thought we could get them in the water for water aerobics and using the pool as therapy.”

Warm water pools: So hot right now
One of the most interesting features at the new Schafer Sports Center is its indoor warm water pool, above. Co-owners Jonathan Schafer and Sharon Schafer spent time researching and traveling to other pool facilities in North Carolina and Florida to learn the best practices for swim training.
For instance, they noticed a common trend to keep the pool water at 90 degrees and adopted the practice.
“We felt like having warm water would be much better for kids to want to be in the water learning and focusing on what you’re teaching them versus freezing, shivering and not taking in what you’re trying to teach them,” Sharon Schafer said. “So, a lot of the schools in Florida and North Carolina all had warm water pools.”
The pool room itself is heated to stay around 88 degrees, and even the changing room for the swimming area is kept at a higher temperature than the rest of the facility.
The best validation, the Schafers said, is that they students have been reacting positively to the new space.
“The students seem to love it,” Sharon Schafer said, “so it feels good to be here.”

Having built the facility from the ground up out of an empty lot, the company was able to design the complex with everything it wanted. This included expanding the offerings of the company’s bread and butter: its gymnastics education.

“We did add some new bells and whistles, like a broad floor for tumbling or a trench bar pit, which teaches students how to swing giants around the bar,” Sharon Schafer said. “We figured out what we wanted the new space to look like and designed it exactly like what we wanted it to be.”

E-mail to: [email protected]
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj

The transformer Slowly but surely, Curtis Bashaw has helped change Cape May

Developer Curtis Bashaw has spent more than 20 years helping to transform Cape May.

Between restoring inns, creating a business incubator and managing a farm, Bashaw has helped the former whaling town recognized as the country’s oldest seashore resort become a thriving mix of a vintage village and the millennial spirit.

Now, he feels Cape May is ready for the spotlight. Ready to become the Hamptons of New Jersey.

“In this East Coast megalopolis, my feeling is, Cape May’s star is rising,” he said. “I feel like Cape May is on the cusp of sort of rivaling a Nantucket or a Martha’s Vineyard or a Charleston or some of those more nationally known (locations).”

For Bashaw, it’s more than just a feeling. It’s an investment.

He is co-founder and co-managing partner of Cape Resorts Group and Cape Advisories, the companies that develop and operate his various properties based in Cape May, and runs an investment fund — called, simply, The Fund — which has a current market cap of $14 million.

The Fund, which is a combination of his own and other local businesses’ investments, has been used to partner with entrepreneurs in the West End Garage, his incubator space.

Through The Fund, commercial space is purchased and, rather than a traditional landlord-tenant relationship, entrepreneurs are offered low rents in exchange for a small percentage of profits. The town gets new business. Bashaw feels it’s a win for everyone.


Bashaw’s put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is attitude about Shore communities has been well-documented over time.

From his first renovation of The Virginia inn in 1995, to his appointment to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in Atlantic City under Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2005 to his renovation of The Chelsea hotel in A.C. in 2008 and finally the West End Garage in 2011, there appears to be a master plan.

In reality, it’s been just as much an unintended consequence of his success.

WEG was supposed to be a headquarters office space for his companies, but, after the economic slump eight years ago, he and his partner decided the expansion wasn’t needed.

And focusing on the retail experience in Cape May stemmed from an interest in the long-term success of his five local hotels: Congress Hall, The Virginia, Beach Shack, The Star and The Sandpiper Beach Club.

But over the past decade, as many of the small shop owners in the resort failed to transfer ownership to the next, often fourth, generation, Bashaw said he became nervous about what would take the place of the shuttered shops.

“There are two or three people that own multiple properties here that are absentee landlords,” he said. “So they’ll be less sensitive to the historic ambiance to the inside of the store. More often than not, they’ll make it a T-shirt or trinket shop. So, we were noticing a disparity in the quality of the hotel and (bed and breakfast) products, and the retail experience.”

Bashaw doesn’t view himself as a savior. In fact, he credits others before him for helping make Cape May what it is today.

Learning from the town’s history, Bashaw credits the previous generation’s preservation — rather than razing and rebuilding — as a reason for success, along with the changes of current businesses.

That lesson, he said, cannot be lost.

“You can’t ever rest on your laurels; any place that does always gets caught off guard,” Bashaw said, recapping the history of the resort from the late 1800s to the rise of the Wildwoods to Atlantic City’s gaming era.

“In the late 1800s, Cape May was the queen of seaside resorts; people were making money hand over fist. They didn’t pay attention to what was happening in the world.”

Since then, Bashaw said Atlantic City had its surge in popularity, as did the Wildwoods, with their motel boom.

“Who would’ve thought, 80 years ago, that Atlantic City would be a wasteland?” Bashaw asked.


Bashaw doesn’t feel like Cape May has been affected by the downturn in gaming.

If anything, tough times have been a bit of a help, as there has been more of a trend toward staycations since 9/11 and the financial crisis.

“We’re the alternate charming town to the big city,” he said.

Tracking ZIP codes from customers backs that up. Bashaw said more than 50 percent of his guests come from New York City, southeastern Connecticut, Long Island and North Jersey. He said he also has a considerable volume of guests from the greater Philadelphia and South Jersey area, followed by a “smattering” of guests from the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Societal shifts have helped, too.

Bashaw has noticed that, as families have become less nuclear, Cape May has become more of a traditional holiday spot.

He said that, while the resort used to be a summer family spot and non-summer romantic weekend getaway, it has now seen a resurgence of families for the holidays. Which is why Bashaw feels an urban vibe for Cape May area, while still preserving its historic, vintage feel, is the key to success.

It’s not a hard sell to get entrepreneurs, Bashaw said.

“I think a lot of these big cities are priced out,” he said, pointing to the Cape May Brewing Co., run by a former New Yorker, which is now exporting its wares.

But he has also actively sought to introduce students at the local high school to the idea of owning a small business. His Beach Plum Farm is used to host networking events for the community and students.

And this is just one of many new uses Bashaw has found for the farm.

He conceived a farm-to-table idea before it was a buzzword, and just this month extended the idea to a prix-fixe dinner and tour for guests of his inns.

The idea was based off of reclaiming the Garden State’s South Jersey history, Bashaw said, as he recalled how Campbell Soup Company chose New Jersey for its tomatoes, back when South Jersey was all farming. Over time, that got supplanted and smaller family farms went out of vogue, but soon corporate farms in Iowa became more expensive than land in South Jersey.

“The trend of people being more aware of where their food comes from and wanting to be close (to home for vacation is great for us),” he said. “We’re one gas tank away from the East Coast megalopolis, which has 25 percent of the U.S. population.

“I think this farmland has got some promise,” he said of the Beach Plum Farm, which is roughly two miles away from the town center.

It began as a source of produce for restaurants near his inns in the resort: The Ebbitt Room in downtown Cape May, Blue Pig Tavern at the Congress Hall inn and Rusty Nail at the Beach Shack. 

He hopes to inspire a new generation to carry the torch moving forward.

“Change is going to happen, it’s all about,” he said. “You can stand on the sidelines and watch change happen, or you can make change.”

E-mail to: [email protected]
On Twitter: @anjkhem

Tropicana’s big-money bet Casino feels it’s positioned for future of the industry after 90M in renovations

This summer, the Tropicana in Atlantic City completed a $40 million renovation project that included updated hotel rooms, another property entrance, a high-limit slots area and a number of added new features, from a luxury hair salon to a premier nightclub.

The upgrades came a year or so after the resort completed a $50 million renovation that featured a modernization of the casino floor, more hotel room updates, a new fitness center and the creation of a multimedia light and sound show on its boardwalk façade.

Who says Atlantic City is crumbling?

At a time when five casinos have closed in less than three years, the Tropicana’s yearly investments back into its own property appear to be an anomaly.

Or a business success story — at least, that’s how Tropicana CEO and President Tony Rodio sees it.

“We are financially successful, strong and continuing to grow,” he said.

Indeed, the Tropicana, like other remaining properties in the city, has seen its market share grow with less saturation. But Rodio also attests the success of the resort to its commitment to business and the age-old adage about spending money to make money.

“We think it’s critical to make sure that we focus on all three elements,” Rodio said. “The employees, the customers and the building.”

Don’t be confused. Rodio is cognizant of the world around him.

Just south of the building is the former Atlantic Club, closed since January 2014. A few blocks north is the former Trump Plaza, visibly in a state of disrepair since it closed in September 2014.

As light and bright as the Tropicana’s new boardwalk shows may be, Rodio knows the city’s challenges are an obstacle.

“It really is difficult, firstly because you have to overcome a negative perception that the general public has about Atlantic City,” he said. “They hear about the city’s financial issues and the potential for the city to go into bankruptcy, or the potential for the state to take over the city. They see all these closures, and then there’s parts of the city that are rundown and blighted.

“But we’re an oasis in the middle of all of that.”


Out on the casino floor, Tropicana General Manager Steve Callender says the changes have boosted morale and reinvigorated employees.

“We have 30-year employees that have been become engaged by what we’ve been doing, “ he said. “They’ve got a new energy about them when we started to redo this casino floor, and they really appreciate it. They get to work more hours; their tips go up. The customers are loving it; they’re engaged with it, as well.”

The success hasn’t exactly come from a secret sauce, either.

Back in 2013, Resorts cut the ribbon on its $35 million Margaritaville-themed expansion and renovation project. In August, figures from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement showed that Resorts saw its gross profits rise by 26 percent over the first half of this year, compared with last year.

That same report showed a 25 percent spike in gross profits for Tropicana over that time period.

“The people that are investing money in their property are seeing a return for it,” Callender added. “Now that we have the right amount of casinos, you can feel comfortable about investing in your property … especially if you do it right.”

Rodio said it’s not just how Tropicana is spending its reinvestment dollars but, rather, what it’s investing in.

Diversification, he said, is key. With a number of changing market elements, the city’s casinos need to continue to offer a wide range of activities that might not center around or have anything to do with traditional gaming.

While that’s certainly a buzzword these days in Atlantic City, Tropicana has long kept that in mind with its boasting of its IMAX theater and array of nightlife and dining options in the “Quarter” section of its resort. But the recent renovations have doubled down on those amenities, with the additions of Ivan Kane’s Kiss Kiss A Go-Go nightclub and a number of eateries, including new restaurants expected early next year from popular Philadelphia-area Iron Chef Jose Garces.

It is part of a larger strategy to attract millennials, who Rodio said are often “focused more on non-gaming attractions that get them to the property.”

“I think it’s even more important as we look to the future,” Rodio said. “You read so much about the millennials and they’re going to be the economic engine that’s driving the economy in the next 10 to 15 years as they gradually become more and more of an economic force.”


Regardless of the confidence Tropicana is currently exuding, there is still a lot of uncertainty across the city.

First, there’s the Trump Taj Mahal, managed by Tropicana Entertainment and owned by Icahn Enterprises, which closed its doors earlier this month amid poor performance and a labor dispute with the local casino workers’ union.

Rodio has largely been in the news lately responding to what will happen at the Taj, but that property’s future is still very much up in the air, with rumors of all sorts continuing to percolate.

That’s also being fueled by an ongoing effort in the state Legislature to effectively block the Taj from holding onto its gaming license. That situation is uncertain.

There’s also the upcoming northern New Jersey casino expansion referendum that voters will consider Nov. 8. While recent polls show that the ballot question might lack the support it needs to pass, nothing is, of course, for certain.

Atlantic City’s gaming market is still eagerly awaiting its fate.

Rodio says that, ultimately, if there aren’t new casinos coming soon to northern New Jersey, he expects to see “some additional properties coming online or reopening” in the next couple of years in Atlantic City as market confidence builds.

Even if it fails, Rodio said he expects legislators to try again. That’s why he’s hoping for a grand defeat.

“I’m hoping that it fails by a pretty wide margin to send a message to Trenton,” he said.

E-mail to: [email protected]