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Rezoning, innovative investor enabling development of a “metroburb” in New Jersey

Indoor mixed-use “Main Street” blossoms in giant former Bell Labs building.

February 13, 2018 |

The historic old Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey, is being converted into a “metroburb,” a giant, indoor “Main Street” that will house stores, a food hall, and technology company offices.

In 2007, Alcatel-Lucent, the company that had taken over Bell Labs from AT&T, shut down operations at the 460-acre site. The question of what to do with the property within the wealthy suburban community lingered for years, after one plan to demolish the building to build housing was shot down. That’s because the Eero Saarinen-designed structure, once described as the “biggest mirror ever,” was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and demolition became unthinkable.

There were no takers for the 2 million sf structure until Ralph Zucker, and his development company, Somerset Development, conceived of the repurposing of the structure into a mixed-use property. It took five years for the town to grant final approval for the purchase, and to have the building rezoned as mixed-use.

There was initial resistance to the plan, but the town has largely embraced the development in the intervening years. The project could become an exemplar for other communities who have giant former corporate headquarters that have outlived their original purpose.

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