Hoffman Estates talking with New Jersey developer about AT&T campus

Hoffman Estates officials are talking with a developer whose repurposing of the former Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey might provide the recipe for a similar remake of the shuttered AT&T corporate campus along the Jane Addams Tollway.

Both buildings are similar in their original design, down to the key element of both redevelopments — a central road which runs through each property, said Ralph Zucker, president of New Jersey-based Somerset Development.

And both lend themselves to becoming an urban, mixed-use development of offices, multifamily residences, stores, restaurants and a hotel, Zucker added.

His coined term for such a concept — “Metroburb” — is one he hopes catches on.

“It's an exciting concept,” Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod said, citing an increasing demand for multifamily housing in the suburbs.

Nothing official has been done toward such a project. The first step would be a formal application with Hoffman Estates filed by Somerset, Village Manager Jim Norris said.

The company's Bell Works could be a model for redevelopment of the AT&T property. Renovations to the 2-million-square-foot former Bell Labs building began in 2013 and are expected complete at the end of 2020.

Zucker believes a similar project at the two AT&T buildings, which total 1.6 million square feet, would benefit from their more efficient use of space as well as the lessons learned at Bell Works.

Somerset's presentation on Bell Works at a national conference caught the eye of Hoffman Estates Director of Development Services Mark Koplin, who made contact with its representatives.

Since Somerset began Bell Works, it's received inquiries from many municipalities saying they've got a vacant building that could use a similar approach, Vice President of Acquisitions and Development Ken Gold said. But none have been such an obvious match as Hoffman Estates, he added.

While much of the repurposing would occur within the existing structures, Zucker said he imagines additional buildings on the 100-acre site for multifamily housing and a hotel. Such a project would take between five and seven years to finish, depending on market conditions, he added.

Hoffman Estates Economic Development Director Kevin Kramer said the questions he's asked most often about the village involve workforce development and workforce attraction. Many tech-savvy millennials are looking for places with urban conveniences.

Norris cited the example of the former Allstate Corp. campus in neighboring South Barrington, which was torn down in an effort to make its site marketable. Hoffman Estates would hope for a different fate for the AT&T buildings, he said.

Zucker said that if his company undertook the project, Somerset would remain the landlord of the property just as it is with Bell Works. Somerset does not currently own the property, however.

Bell Works, a massive redevelopment of the former Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey, could be the model for a similar remaking of the shuttered AT&T corporate campus in Hoffman Estates. Courtesy of Somerset Development
A New Jersey-based developer has shown interest in remaking the former AT&T corporate campus in Hoffman Estates, which has sat empty since 2016. Plans could include a mix of offices, restaurants, multifamily housing and a hotel. Daily Herald File Photo, 2011
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