'They want the vibe': Tenants who could move in by September touring Hoffman Estates 'metroburb'

Tenants already are getting a look and could move in by September

The earliest tenants of the Bell Works Chicagoland "metroburb" on the former AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates could move in as early as September.

Potential office users already are touring the development's interior, as the first spaces are being made ready for occupancy in about 10 to 12 weeks.

Both non-customized office spaces - being called "Ready to Wear at Bell Works" - and coworking spaces known as "Colab at Bell Works" will be ready by sometime in September, said Ralph Zucker, president of New Jersey-based Somerset Development.

Each of those areas, though directly adjacent in the sprawling building, will have individual cafes and access to a 30,000-square-foot health club with plenty of space for spread-out equipment and social distancing, Zucker said.

While those amenities will be in place from the start, the interest from potential tenants so far also stems from the promise of the stores, restaurants and entertainment venues to follow, when the COVID-19 pandemic is more squarely in the rearview mirror.

"They want the vibe," Zucker said. "They want to know that it's coming."

In fact, the main questions Zucker said he's being asked by potential tenants involve the timing and the certainty of the project's full vision as a mixed-use development.

The residential component of Bell Works Chicagoland may even be accelerated, but Somerset is still working out how much of that it plans to build itself and how much to sell to another developer, Zucker said.

The concept plan approved by Hoffman Estates officials calls for 380 multifamily residential units and 170 townhouses. Though the number of each type of unit is allowed to vary by 8%, the total number cannot exceed 550.

  This huge space in the Bell Works Chicagoland "metroburb," in the former AT&T headquarters in Hoffman Estates, will be home for a ground level fountain as stores and offices will surround it, as depicted in the pictures. Mark Welsh/

But the quality of office space will be the backbone of Bell Works Chicagoland, just as it is for the original Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey, Zucker said.

While the pandemic is affecting the office market, Zucker doesn't believe it's destroying it. Ultimately, an effective workforce has to come together, Zucker said.

"Getting your office right has never been more important," he said.

The designs of the Bell Works buildings in Hoffman Estates and New Jersey - especially their large, open atriums - lend themselves to Somerset's "metroburb" concept, but there are other underlying criteria that are perhaps more fundamental, Zucker said, including location, lower heights and the host community's grasp of the concept.

One of the latest renderings of the central common area of the coming Bell Works Chicagoland on the former AT&T corporate campus in Hoffman Estates. Courtesy of Somerset Development

The Hoffman Estates village board already has approved renovation of the interior lobby and atrium space, as well as construction of 32,462 square feet of speculative office space and 2,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space on the main floor of the central building at 2000 Center Drive.

The three-building, 150-acre former AT&T campus Somerset bought last year came with 1.6 million square feet of existing office space. The gradual transformation of that space into a more eclectic mix of uses began last fall.

"We've liberated the building from all the encroachments that were here," Zucker said.

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