Bell Works at 101 Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel — Courtesy: Bell Works
By Joshua Burd
Somerset Development has rebranded as part of a move to highlight its growing list of projects that have repurposed and reinvented properties in New Jersey and other markets.
Now known as Inspired by Somerset Development, the firm said the shift is a nod to concepts such as Bell Works, its landmark adaptive reuse of the former Bell Labs campus in Holmdel, and the mixed-use Wesmont Station project in Wood-Ridge. With the latter, the company redeveloped a former Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant to create more than 1,500 townhomes and apartments, as well as retail and commercial space, while partnering with NJ Transit to build an entirely new train station at the 70-acre property.
The developer says it has executed such projects with the goal of improving quality of life while evoking a genuine sense of culture, community and place in both commercial and residential settings.
“I think it has to do with the transformation of Somerset Development,” said Ralph Zucker, its CEO and founder, noting that the firm has evolved over nearly three decades from a local single-family homebuilder on Somerset Avenue in Lakewood to more of a national player with complex, thought-provoking projects.
“We wanted to do something that would show that our focus has evolved and shifted much more to mixed-use, much more to place-making,” he added. “We look back at what we’ve done in the last decade or more and we’ve been creating inspired places, places that inspire people.”
The company is best known for its work in Holmdel, now its home base, where it revitalized what was a dormant, 2 million-square-foot former research facility into a mixed-use hub of office space, shops, restaurants, community services and event and hospitality venues. That makes Bell Works “the best example” of the firm seeking to inspire its tenants, Zucker said, noting that it has become all the more important to do so during the pandemic.
“It’s all about coming to work and I think it’s especially relevant today when people say, ‘I can work at home from my kitchen table,’ ” he said. “Yeah, you could do that, but if you want to be inspired, come to Bell Works and be inspired.”
The reinvention of the Crawfords Corner Road property is still ongoing, even if its commercial space is 95 percent leased. While office occupancy post-pandemic is gradually rising among larger tenants, Bell Works’ prebuilt co-working spaces for smaller, entrepreneurial firms are “jam-packed,” he said, while the indoor retail corridor known as The Block continues to generate traffic from users on-site and outside visitors.
“In general, the place just feels alive and kicking,” Zucker said. “There’s real vibrancy.”
Inspired is now in the midst of bringing that concept to Hoffman Estates, Illinois — at what it calls Bell Works Chicagoland — as it repurposes a 150-acre former AT&T corporate campus. Those plans are well underway and include much of the same uses as its Holmdel counterpart, as the firm actively purses new locations across the nation for it calls metroburbs.
Somerset Development also figures to find continued success as Inspired, given a growing push by municipalities to transform underused properties and create a greater sense of place in their communities, the firm said. It did so in Wood-Ridge with its mixed-use, transit-centric Westmont Station project, partnering with PulteGroup and AvalonBay Communities Inc. in the process.
It’s now looking to replicate that success in Somerville — with the same team — where it’s employing so-called new urbanist principles that call for walkability throughout a development surrounding Somerville’s train station. Plans at the site include 14 apartment buildings and 156 townhomes, plus two parking garages, 4,000 square feet of retail space and a 2,600-square-foot community civic center.
“On a very basic level, it has a human-scale environment and it creates that daily satisfaction,” Zucker said, adding that both AvalonBay and Pulte are in the midst of building out their apartment and townhome phases, respectively, drawing strong interest in the site.
The veteran developer said rebranding is also meant to “remind ourselves daily that we are about creating inspired places and great places and to tell our stakeholders, our customers and the people we deal with that we felt it would be a good idea to rebrand.” Meantime, Inspired Controller Mordechai Sidell said the new identity “brings a calculated departure from the norm, generating genuine excitement where some may have thought to be impossible.”
“Our company was formed around the concept of new urbanism — a development philosophy that promotes sustainable, walkable places — and collaboration has been the centerpiece of every one of our development initiatives,” Sidell said. “With this rebrand, we’re reaffirming our core mission and signaling our intent to share our methodology with municipalities throughout the U.S.”