The Metroburb: The cure for the vacant suburban office campus

  • KEVIN KRAMER

    KEVIN KRAMER

 

Hoffman Estates is moving forward with the new wave of sustainable development types, the Metroburb, at the former AT&T headquarter campus along I-90, with New Jersey's Somerset Development.

In spring 2017 while at an educational conference, members of village staff team toured Somerset's very successful transformation of a 2 million square foot Bell Labs facility in Holmdel, New Jersey into a "Metroburb."

The mixed-use project under one roof, called Bell Works, features office space, as well as retail, service and civic uses open to the general public, surrounded by residential and open space. Because of the similarity to the Hoffman Estates campus, a total of 1.6 million square feet of office space on 150 acres built in the early 1990s, staff approached Somerset to see if they might be interested in the vacant AT&T facility in Hoffman Estates.

When asked about the definition of a Metroburb, Ralph Zucker, president of Somerset Development said, "A Metroburb is a metropolis in suburbia. It has a gravitational pull of its own. It has everything that you would find in a larger metropolis -- office, retail, residential, hospitality, health, wellness, fitness -- Main Street USA. Whether you want to go to the bank or the dry cleaners or go hang out on an incredible rooftop and have a drink with friends or grab a cup of coffee. All these things coming together, there's your slice of urbanity in a great suburban location".

Somerset came up with the idea of converting massive vacant corporate campuses into Metroburbs, which allow firms to rent office space above retail spaces like a grocery market, fitness center, coffee shop, restaurants, salon, day care, doggy day care and more.

The concept allows corporate employees in the suburbs to enjoy the convenience of working in a city, but with everything under one roof while getting the best parts of the suburbs with the great schools, award winning parks and forest preserves and low crime rates.

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The first floor of the Metroburb, a naturally lit atrium, is open to the general public and programed by the developer to activate the space with business expos, farmers' markets, film festivals, artist events and other activities to promote collaboration, inclusivity and community. The village has approved the concept plan for Bell Works in Hoffman Estates, which calls for 1.2 million square feet of offices, 60,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 80,000 square feet of conference space in the existing buildings, and up to 550 residential units between apartments and townhomes fronting along the Cook County Forest Preserve.

According to Zucker, the goal is to revitalize an area of suburbia by adding density and an urban vibe to cater to current market demand by millennials for both their jobs and homes. Somerset purchased the property in March 2019 and is finalizing rehabilitation plans and preleasing.

Today's young families are moving out of the city to be in better schools and enjoy a more safe environment, but they still want the urban amenities to which they have become accustomed. To help meet these expectations, the 170-parking space Pace Park & Ride facility at Barrington Road, a quarter mile from Bell Works, is now operating to easily connect commuters to the CTA Blue Line station in Rosemont.

Furthermore, Hoffman Estates expects that putting 5,000 employees back in the former AT&T building will help surrounding businesses, from the restaurants and hotels to the retailers and service providers. As President Kennedy famously said, 'A rising tide raises all ships,' and the Village believes this Metroburb, Bell Works, is the strong tide that will rise over the next several years.

There's a hunger in the suburbs for more than just the typical suburban office park. People want that vibrant, great place to work. The Metroburb can satisfy that hunger all over the country and it's continuing right now in Hoffman Estates!

• Kevin Kramer, CEcD, is economic development director for the village of Hoffman Estates.

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