‘A game changer’: Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates ready to add homes

While the commercial development of Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates is continuing on pace in 2024, the year’s biggest milestone is expected to be the start of construction on 164 townhouses on the east side of the former AT&T headquarters.

Final approval also will be sought for nearly 300 apartments in the same 20-acre area of the sprawling property, Inspired by Somerset Development CEO Ralph Zucker said.

Though pleased by the office, dining, fitness, and even research and development tenants that have spurred the project on in the wake of the pandemic, Zucker said the imminent residential components will generate round-the-clock life at Bell Works and truly earn it his favorite description — “metroburb.”

“Having over 500 families here is going to be a game-changer,” he said.

  Using a model as a reference, developer Ralph Zucker shows where housing will be built at Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/

Bell Works already has leased 250,000 square feet of retail and office space of its potential 1.2 million-square-foot build-out. Last year brought 80,000 square feet, including eight “Ready-to-Wear” office suites totaling 15,000 square feet.

As companies move to smaller but better quality office space, the gradual disappearance of older properties — with the massive former Sears headquarters further west in Hoffman Estates to soon be on that list — is helping new developments like Bell Works, Zucker said.

  Lighted artwork decorates the lobby of Crystal Clean at Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/

An example is the wireless infrastructure provider Cambium Networks moving its U.S. headquarters from Rolling Meadows to Bell Works. The Motorola spinoff’s 35,000 square feet currently under renovation was not only the largest new lease of 2023 at Bell Works but takes advantage of a novel opportunity to have its corporate offices and engineering labs on the same property.

“Here we’ve married the two,” Zucker said. “They’ve brought both of their uses together. The village modified the zoning here to accommodate that.”

The company’s research and development will be conducted in newly equipped space on the first floor, with its offices and conference rooms on the fourth.

Cambium Networks Senior Engineer Evan Boyack said there are few facilities that could offer the combination of space. The international company has a desire to stay in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs because it remains the base of the talent pool Motorola attracted there.

Amenities such as the Fairgrounds World’s Fair restaurant and bar were another attraction of Bell Works, he added.

“Having these amenities helps bring our engineers back to the office,” Boyack said.

  Decorated clothing items have been stacked and are readied for shipment at Club Colors at Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/

Club Colors is a branding company that similarly combines office and work spaces at Bell Works. The company creates branded clothing and merchandise for its clients.

  The bar at the 5,743-square-foot World’s Fair by Fairgrounds restaurant at Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/

Other amenities include Bell Works’ own Fit Lab workout space and the leased tenant It Gym. An indoor golf tenant is in development and a soundproofed pickleball court is in the planning stages.

Also on the way are a craft market that will operate from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month and a gluten-free bakery pop-up.

Even before people are living on the property, the aim is for the amenities to draw those who live or work in the area, Zucker said.

  Fit Lab General Manager Sarah Enzenbacher shows new fitness equipment at Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/

At least 20% of the 480 members of Fit Lab live nearby and possibly even more are workers whose offices are elsewhere, General Manager Sarah Enzenbacher said.

A sauna and steam rooms soon will be added to the 30,000-square-foot space.

Only the eastern wing of the former AT&T building has been repurposed so far. At least one additional restaurant will be needed there before the redevelopment spreads to the middle and west end, Zucker said.

  The atrium of the redeveloped east wing of Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the original Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey, which redeveloped another telecommunications headquarters.

Holmdel provided proof the concept could work in Hoffman Estates, said Zucker, adding that he faced a long, hard struggle in New Jersey to make political leaders and potential backers see the opportunity.

“We had to invent the wheel more in Holmdel,” he said.

  The western end of the redeveloped east wing of Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/

Other differences include the better condition the Hoffman Estates building was in as well as its access to and visibility from the tollway.

“Our location is actually better,” Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod said of Bell Works Chicagoland.

  The exterior of the east entrance of Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/

McLeod foresees an eager market for the townhouses expected to hit the market by next year, including among buyers who spend part of the year in warmer climates.

The key to both Bell Works projects was finding office buildings that had been originally designed to unite people, unlike the typical office building that divides and isolates its tenants, Zucker said.

“It has to be a building that can be repurposed with a significant, public, pedestrian-friendly retail and restaurant component,” he added.

  A view over the atrium of the east wing of Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates. Joe Lewnard/
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