Bell Works in Holmdel hosted this year’s RealShare NJ conference – Courtesy: Somerset Development
By Joshua Burd
It might be the amenities that help an office or residential building stand out from the competition, but it’s no longer about simply who can offer the most bells and whistles.
Just ask Ralph Zucker, who feels “the ultimate amenity” is creating a sense of place.
“We’re finding that there is a huge benefit when you provide something that’s not an amenity, but real life,” said Zucker, president of Somerset Development. “In other words … (in) Hoboken and Jersey City, what really draws people is not going to be the café in your own building or even the clubhouse or the spa, but it’s the street life, it’s the people around you.”
It was among several themes highlighted during the opening panel at this year’s RealShare NJ conference, which took place Wednesday at the Bell Works campus in Holmdel. Zucker, whose firm is redeveloping the sprawling office complex, said he is seeing the trend in both residential and commercial development and in urban and suburban settings alike.
He was echoed by other panelists at the annual real estate industry gathering. Mimi Feliciano, whose firm is building an upscale, 47-unit condominium complex in Long Branch, said the project will aim to create a lifestyle that feeds off of nearby developments such as Pier Village.
“We’re encouraged because Long Branch is such a destination place now,” said Feliciano, founder and CEO of Montville-based FEM Real Estate. “It’s so popular and we really were inspired by the South Beach lifestyle, and we created that here.”
That’s not to say developers are shying away from luxury perks. Feliciano’s project, dubbed South Beach at Long Branch, includes features such as ocean views, private elevator entrances and a private dining room, as FEM “is trying to bring amenities to a whole new level.”
Jorge Abad, a project manager with the architecture firm Cooper Carry, noted that some clients are opting for smaller apartment units in order to create more amenity space. It’s part of the effort to lure renters from Manhattan to places such as Hoboken and Jersey City, he said.
But he added that having the right communal space plays an equally important role. Doing so “is about creating the space with the right kind of uses,” he said, whether that means finding the right retailer, integrating health care, mixing residential types or having co-working space at a property.
Zucker said the focus on amenities and placemaking “goes in line with people’s desire to be social and be around other people.” It’s one of the underpinnings of Somerset Development’s effort in Holmdel, which calls for transforming the 2 million-square-foot former Bell Labs campus into a walkable, mixed-use setting that resembles a vibrant city.
“When we say amenities, we don’t like to use that word,” Zucker said. “We like to create a vibe, we like to create a real place.”
Those plans have helped the firm fill more than 60 percent of the available office space at the property. As those tenants prepare to move in, Somerset will continue its effort to create an open, connected environment at what is now Bell Works, such as by tearing down the walls around the interior offices and replacing them with glass panels.
“You can come back here in two years and see everything totally glazed,” Zucker said, “and shops and restaurants, food halls and things like that all around here and populated not just by people in the building, but people coming in because of the great street scene we’re creating.
“That’s the ultimate amenity.”