Despite economic slowdown, developer of Hoffman Estates 'metroburb' remains upbeat

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an undeniable impact on the market for office space, but it's one that could equally benefit the forthcoming Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates once tenants begin signing leases, its developer said.

Using its up-and-running namesake in Holmdel, New Jersey, as a guide, Somerset Development President Ralph Zucker said the second Bell Works on the former AT&T campus likely will experience a softening of demand for large spaces but more demand for its suburban location, spacious common areas and lack of height.

"Even if companies need less space, more companies will need space like ours," Zucker said. "Overall, we're feeling very positive about Bell Works. We always were successful at creating the urban vibe in a suburban environment."

Somerset recently informed Hoffman Estates officials that it is tweaking its plans for the initial 32,462-square-foot phase of the project's office space component. While every part of it is being renovated, some may be marketed without a major upfront customization in order to get tenants in sooner and at a lower cost, Zucker said.

There will be no changes to plans for amenities and common areas, with a cafe and health club also expected in the initial phase.

"We have to be more nimble and accommodate people quicker," Zucker said. "We're seeing strong interest in every square foot in New Jersey."

Among what he considers the selling points of both Bell Works locations in the current environment is the lack of a long commute to a densely populated city and avoiding public transit, parking garages with attendants who drive the vehicles and lines to enter crowded high-rise elevators.

While economic uncertainty is keeping potential tenants from signing leases this month, those who have expressed interest in Bell Works Chicagoland haven't walked away, Zucker said.

"We're really in a great situation," he said. "People are looking for a desk in the suburbs."

What permanent changes the pandemic leaves behind is anyone's guess, Zucker admits.

Also less clear is how quickly the market will recover for the restaurants and retail businesses, both of which are planned for the 1.6 million-square-foot development. Workers in the development's office spaces will create some demand, Zucker said.

"Restaurants are challenged everywhere," he said. "Our bread and butter is creating a great opportunity for our office tenants."

Somerset has also planned to sell some land adjacent to the main building to another developer for construction of 380 multifamily residential units and 170 townhouses. Though the number of homes is allowed to vary by 8%, the total number cannot exceed 550.

Developer buys former AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates for planned 'metroburb'

Now the rebuilding can begin at AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates

Plan for Bell Works 'metroburb' in Hoffman Estates tweaked due to pandemic

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the demand for office space across the country, developers of the Bell Works Chicagoland on the former AT&T corporate campus in Hoffman Estates believe they're well positioned for a rebound when conditions allow it. Courtesy of Somerset Development
  Aerial view of the former AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates, which has begun its transformation into the Bell Works Chicagoland "metroburb." Joe Lewnard/, 2018
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