By John Burton
HOLMDEL – Things are finally moving forward on redevelopment of the massive former Bell Labs/Lucent property.
“I’m very excited this is finally coming to fruition,” said Mayor Patrick Impreveduto about the plan, recently approved by township officials, for the long-vacant and dormant location on Crawford’s Corner and Roberts roads. “It’s going to be a boon for Holmdel.”
The planning board last week unanimously approved Phase I of the redevelopment project, addressing the reapplication of the site’s 1.9 million-square-foot complex.
In coming months – probably before the end of the year – a site plan will be submitted for Phase II – development of some of the 470-acre tract for residential use, including both single-family homes and age-restricted developments.
Phase I calls for the massive building to be readapted for a variety of uses. The developer – Somerset Development — is looking to use much of the available space for health, wellness and fitness-related businesses, said Ralph Zucker, president of the company located in Lakewood, Wood-Ridge and New York City.
Zucker said his firm already has a contract with Community Health Associates, which brings health-care providers together as partners. In this case, Community Health Associates will be responsible for operating an ambulatory surgical center, doctors’ office space, spas, possibly a physical therapy facility and labs.
“Imagine a hospital, but not,” Zucker said of the concept which will have practically everything a hospital has except overnight stays in the roughly 400,000 square foot medical facilty.
The remainder of the building will be allocated for retail space, a hotel and conference facility and cafes, he said.
In addition, some of the site would include an atrium accessible to the public and eventual relocation of the township library, said Christa Segalini of the Beckerman public relations firm representing Somerset.
It’ll be “a very urban experience in suburbia,” Zucker said.
Somerset is in contract with Toll Brothers of Horsham, Pa., to sell the homebuilders property for its portion of the project. Zucker said that part of the plan calls for the construction of 185 age-restricted carriage house units and 40 large-lot single-family homes.
The township committee in April 2012 adopted a redevelopment plan, laying out encouraged uses for the site. Impreveduto said what has been offered “is all part of the redevelopment plan.”
And that was not by accident, Zucker said, noting the plan was in development for about six years.
“A lot of the ideas here were refined in the court of public opinion,” he said, as his firm held a series of public outreach meetings to talk to the community about what was under consideration.
The response, the mayor said, is, by and large, very positive. The “vast majority” of people who live here want something constructive done with the site, he said.
The problem for the township, however, was to determine what could be done with the building, which many feel has historic significance but is too large for modern use.
“The fact of the matter is, at 2 million square feet, it’s obsolete,” Impreveduto said.
Township officials, to no avail, had reached out to a variety of large corporations and major technology companies, hoping to get one of them interested in the building and site, the mayor said.
The plan is “getting positive feedback” from residents, Impreveduto said. The overall benefit will be about $6 million in ratables each year when it’s completed. “It’ll help every resident. It’ll help stabilize taxes.”
In its current unoccupied state, the property owner, Alcatel-Lucent, pays about $500,000 in township property taxes.
“We were very pleased” with the public’s response, Zucker said. “Now we’re looking forward to moving ahead and being open for business.”
The building, designed by architect Eero Saarinen, was completed in 1962. It was used as a research complex by Bell Labs and much of the company’s cutting edge work was done there. Additions were constructed in 1966 and 1982.
At its peak, more than 6,500 employees worked on-site. Alcatel-Lucent closed up shop in 2007, with only a small maintenance and security presence remaining, according to Alcatel-Lucent spokesman Kurt Steinert.
Somerset Development expects to close on the property in the next few weeks, but Zucker declined to reveal the final price.
Redevelopment of the building will cost more than $100 million, he said, with work expected to take about seven years.
“We are pleased with the progress being made between Holmdel Township and Somerset Development,” Alcatel-Lucent’s Steinert said in an email. “We look forward to closing on the sale of the property in the near future.”