How a developer plans to turn old AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates into self-contained 'city'

 
 
Updated 4/25/2018 2:43 PM
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  • A New Jersey-based developer has filed a concept plan for the 1.6 million-square-foot AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates, based on work still in progress on the former 2 million-square-foot Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey.

      A New Jersey-based developer has filed a concept plan for the 1.6 million-square-foot AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates, based on work still in progress on the former 2 million-square-foot Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey. Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer, 2016

  • Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey -- a redevelopment of the former 2-million-square-foot Bell Labs building -- is the project upon which Somerset Development's concept plan for the former AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates is based.

    Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey -- a redevelopment of the former 2-million-square-foot Bell Labs building -- is the project upon which Somerset Development's concept plan for the former AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates is based. Courtesy of Somerset Development

  • A New Jersey-based developer has filed a concept plan for the 1.6-million-square-foot AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates, based on work still in progress on the former 2-million-square-foot Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey.

      A New Jersey-based developer has filed a concept plan for the 1.6-million-square-foot AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates, based on work still in progress on the former 2-million-square-foot Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer, 2011

A New Jersey developer has spelled out its plan to convert a vacant suburban corporate campus into a self-contained "city" of stores, restaurants, homes, entertainment, hotel rooms and a variety of office uses covering 150 acres along the Jane Addams Tollway.

Two buildings on the former AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates would house 1.2 million square feet of offices, 60,000 square feet of retail shops and 80,000 square feet of conference space, while new construction would add 375 apartments, 175 townhouses and a 200-room hotel, according to the concept plan by Somerset Development.

Somerset, which led a similar redevelopment of the Bell Labs complex in Holmdel, New Jersey, has referred to it as a "metroburb."

Hoffman Estates' planning and zoning commission will review the concept plan at a May 2 meeting. The village board's planning, building & zoning committee will review a proposed development agreement May 7 ahead of its possible approval on May 14.

Pete Gugliotta, the village's director of planning, building and code enforcement, said what occurs at those meetings are more or less baby steps for the overall project, but they are a big deal because the concept is so new for Hoffman Estates.

Barrington Unit District 220 officials are cautiously optimistic about the proposal. The district objected last year to another major mixed-use project in Hoffman Estates, the proposed Plum Farms development on the northwest corner of routes 59 and 72.

"It shouldn't sit empty," District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris said of the AT&T site. "Our biggest concern and question is the funding part. In this case, I don't see a massive residential component."

Harris and District 220 board President Brian Battle said the school district has seen a major loss of property tax revenue from the site since AT&T began moving out a few years ago. That has spread the tax burden to other land owners. Last year, a court ordered district to pay back $1.2 million to the property's current owner.

While the idea of redeveloping the site is welcome, District 220 wants to ensure that the cost of educating students who would live there doesn't outweigh the additional property taxes, Battle said.

Ken Gold, vice president of acquisitions and development for Somerset, said the company has not requested tax incentives, though all possibilities remain under consideration.

One possible source of help to the developer is the "Big Empties" bill under consideration by a state House committee. It would provide incentives for redevelopment of large vacant buildings, said Democratic state Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates.

Among the possible incentives are an income tax credit equal to 25 percent of a developer's investment, a tax exemption on the purchase of computer software for a project, and an abatement of up to half of a site's property tax, Crespo said. While a local government like District 220 might not be a fan of giving up half the property tax revenue, Crespo said the former AT&T campus has already lost so much value that such a deal could still benefit the school district.

"There is no way any developer can come out here and do it on their own," Crespo said, citing the size of the AT&T buildings and campus.

And the site is just of one several in Illinois facing the same problem. Others include Motorola in Harvard, Caterpillar in Peoria and Navistar in Naperville, he added.

Crespo said he understands the criticism of such tax breaks, but that all states are offering incentives to spur economic development.

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