Bell Works, an ambitious $100 million mixed-use project on 472 acres, wants to be the town center Holmdel, N.J., never had.
And Somerset Development, which is spearheading Bell Works, is casting a wide net for shoppers, as far north as the Poconos and as far south as Atlantic City, with Morristown, Newark Liberty International Airport, the Jersey shore communities, Trenton and Philadelphia in between.
To appeal to such far-flung constituencies, Somerset knows its offerings must be compelling. The company believes it has a unique property and structure to work with.
Bell Labs in 1961 hired Eero Saarinen to design its 2 million-square-foot headquarters at 101 Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel. The building has the same square footage the Empire State building, if it were laid flat. Alcatel-Lucent in 2006 acquired Bell Labs and subsequently closed the site, which remained empty for seven years.
The project as reimagined by Somerset will preserve the striking glass-encased exterior of the massive building, while carving the interior into various uses.
Besides its famous architect, the building’s storied history includes discoveries by Bell Labs scientists that led to eight Nobel Prizes.
Somerset envisions the Bell Works-cum-town center with retail space, a medical center, hotel and conference center, event space and auditorium, and sports complex. In addition, the developer struck a deal with Toll Brothers, which plans to build single-family luxury homes and carriage houses.
A library, heliport and green roof space are also part of the plan. One of the more unique features of the building, which has a huge glass-topped atrium, is an indoor football field.
Somerset is reducing the office component to 650,000 square feet, divisible into large and smaller footprints with a capacity for 5,000 employees.
“We’re looking for services for the community and destination types of services,” said Nancy Erickson, executive managing director of Colliers’ New Jersey office. “We’re talking to large yoga centers, schools, a drive-in theater and bowling, something fun that gets the local community to think of this as their place to go out.”
Scott Edlitz, senior managing director of Colliers’ New York office, said national retailers need not apply. Somerset wants the retail and dining offerings to be a counterpoint to local area shopping centers such as the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, and Ocean County Mall in Toms River, N.J.
“We’re looking for people that don’t fit in traditional malls. We have a blank slate for a downtown,” Edlitz said. “It will be a little more eclectic. Holmdel doesn’t have a town center.”
A public pedestrian esplanade with free WiFi, open 24-7, will be anchored by 130,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants.
“The ownership wants something unique,” Erickson said. “It’s not going to be easy, but they’re going to be patient. There will be apparel and an art gallery. There will be reasons to come to this building.”
“[Somerset] is being very aggressive as far as rent,” Edlitz said, while declining to give any figures.
Erickson and Edlitz said the project will have 4,200 parking spaces, which will be a draw for residents.
Before Somerset stepped in and acquired the property, “people talked about razing the building,” Edlitz said. “But it’s a landmark and architecturally significant. Somerset said, ‘We’ll keep the existing structure, but we’ll reimagine it. We’re curating the tenants to get the right feel. It’s a long-term project.’”
Somerset’s enthusiasm for Bell Works is partly explained by the area’s demographics. Within three miles of the site, there are 27,455 families with $182,444 in household income. Five miles out, 125,166 families earn $125,888, and at 10 miles, it’s 430,287 families earning $112,982.
“It’s very densely populated,” Erickson said of the location, reached by exit 114 on the Garden State Parkway. “The PNC Bank Art Center is the exit before.”