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ABERDEEN, MD-Opus East is assigning exclusive development rights for the Government and Technology Enterprise (G.A.T.E.) Enhanced Use Leasing project at Aberdeen Proving Ground to St. John Properties, Inc. The Army approved the handover on June 19.

The development rights to Aberdeen Proving Ground’s G.A.T.E project is a coveted mandate for any developer with its near certain tenant base. G.A.T.E is a 413-acre private sector enclave within the 72,000-acre Army installation at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Opus was originally selected to construct and manage the EUL project there; no specific reason was given why St. John is assuming construction, marketing and leasing activities from Opus East. Opus East is experiencing financial difficulties due to the recession and credit crunch. St. John did not return a call to GlobeSt.com in time for publication.

G.AT.E.’s original specs included two million square feet of office, lab, and research and development space–all aimed at firms, defense contractors, and other Army and Department of Defense units active at Aberdeen. The projects are expected to add 6,000 new government jobs to the base–some 5,000 of which are being relocated from New Jersey due to the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005.

To be sure, headway has been made towards these goals: currently under construction is a two-phase, 2.5-million-square-foot campus to house the Command, Control, Computer, Communication, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Command operations, expected to be delivered in third quarter 2011.

A backlog of commercial real estate space, though, has apparently developed in the meanwhile. St. John Properties says it will immediately start grading a portion of the property in anticipation of constructing three or four research and development and office buildings totaling between 150,000 and 200,000 square feet to provide more capacity.

St. John, of course, is confronting the same financial and market headwinds as Opus. St. John has developed many of its projects for cash, or with pre-leases in hand, or both. These strategies have left the company with a solid financial position for this mammoth undertaking. Indeed, St. John has said it intends to invest a significant amount of money for grading and the installation of necessary infrastructure improvements at G.A.T.E.

“We view this development as the most significant commercial real estate opportunity in the history of our company,” says President and Founder Edward A. St. John, in a prepared statement. “This is based on the amount of square footage that can eventually be developed as well as the important work that will be completed by end-users that occupy this space.”

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