Bell Works in Holmdel — Courtesy: Somerset Development
By Joshua Burd
In a state that is undergoing sweeping changes to its economy and demographics, real estate leaders are gearing up to make sure that those changes are well-known to elected officials.
On Thursday, the New Jersey Builders Association will host a fundraiser to support its Builders Political Action Committee. It will do so at the high-profile Bell Works campus in Holmdel, seeking to gather industry members and public officials ahead of a November election in which voters will elect a new governor and in which all 120 legislative seats of are up for grabs.
The “Summer Send-Off” event comes “at a very critical point” for the Garden State, said Debra Tantleff, founding principal of Tantum Real Estate, meaning the NJBA has an obligation to its membership, governing bodies and residents “to really educate policymakers as to the larger trends that are happening in the marketplace.” Those include social and demographic trends tied to how people live, how they work and the types of communities in which they live.
As such, Tantleff said it’s important that public officials understand those dynamics, especially in the context of overlapping policy issues such as housing, land use and job creation.
“We have to make sure that are our legislators are aware of what those dynamics mean and how smart fiscal impact policy can benefit that,” said Tantleff, a member of the event’s host committee. “And we need to be able to craft and implement thoughtful economic policy that’s going to be able to sustain where some of these cycles and trends are going.”
With a constituency that includes homebuilders and professionals all types — from all corners of the state — she said the NJBA and the PAC have sought to be “the cohesive voice that tries to aggregate all of the policy issues and advocate on behalf of its larger membership.” The organization has honored some of the industry’s most accomplished executives during fundraisers in recent years, but Tantleff said this year will “take a tone on the event that (is) much more holistic of the industry at large.”
She added that, as developers have adapted to changes in the economy, the commercial and residential real estate sectors in New Jersey “are much more cohesive and blended than they’ve historically been.”
“It’s a wider audience today,” Tantleff said. “And it’s really important that even my colleagues in the real estate industry who have historically been more on the commercial side of the business understand the dynamics of what’s happening in the residential sector, because there is this symbiotic relationship.”
She said BPAC chose Holmdel as the venue because of its central location and its accessibility from a larger swath of the state. But “we also chose the venue because Bell Works is a good example of how suburbia is trying to grapple with the changes in our society both from a housing perspective and from a commercial perspective.”
Bell Works is the iconic former Bell Labs research campus, where Somerset Development has repositioned what was once the largest vacant office building in the country. The campus is now a hub of technology tenants and other firms that offers a mixed-used, urban-style environment within its 2 million-square-foot shell.
Meantime, Toll Brothers is now redeveloping the sprawling campus that surrounds the complex into more than 200 age-restricted townhomes and single-family homes.
The concept of mixed-use development is at the heart of many of the state’s most visible projects, making it all the more important for the PAC to convey to the Legislature that “the way people are working and the way people are living” are inextricably linked.
“And it’s not a chicken or the egg scenario,” Tantleff said. “There’s just a tremendous synergy in what’s happening in the changes of both of those sides of the market.”
The NJBA’s Summer Send-Off is slated for Thursday, Sept. 7, at Bell Works at 101 Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel. For more information, visit the event website.