When Tim Touhey, Investors Bank Senior Vice President of Commercial Real Estate Finance, saw the proposed plans for the Bell Works property owned by Somerset Development, he realized this was not just another real estate deal. Rather, it was a creative and innovative approach to bring new life to a community. So Touhey worked with Meridian Capital Group and OceanFirst Bank to negotiate the 36-month, $70 million loan that will rehabilitate the 2 million-square-foot historic space.
Bell Works is the old Bell Laboratories (Bell Labs) Complex in Holmdel, Monmouth County, New Jersey. The complex was originally constructed between 1959 and 1962, and was designed by renowned Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, who died a year before the award-winning project was completed. The property at 101 Crawford’s Corner Road is the site of Nobel Prize-winning research, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
When the complex was Bell Labs, owned by AT&T, and later Alcatel-Lucent, there were some 6,000 engineers working at the site, along with other support staff. When the site was vacated in 2006, many jobs were lost and the community was negatively affected.
“This site was a significant economic engine in this area,” said Touhey. “Bell Labs was a major employer and represented a huge footprint in the region. When it closed, it had a devastating effect on the surrounding communities – and not just Holmdel, but this whole part of the state.”
Investors Bank Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer Rich Spengler was impressed by Somerset Development President Ralph Zucker’s plans for the site. “What Ralph Zucker’s company already has done and what we are financing with this loan, actually represents a new approach that enables New Jersey to turn a massive corner in terms of development,” said Spengler. “We also are excited to jointly finance this project with OceanFirst Bank, because this innovative repurposing of space represents the future of commercial real estate (CRE) development in our State.”
“This is the kind of project,” explained Spengler, “that is not a one-off. It becomes a living entity that provides critical, ongoing economic development that injects new life into a community.” He said that is why this type of project is so exciting and so critical to the future of New Jersey.
The repurposed space is designed as multi-tenant and multi-purpose, with retail space on the ground floor, a conference center, and office space in the floors above. It all is designed to meet the technological and social needs of today’s businesses. Separate from the Investors Bank-OceanFirst Bank financing, Somerset Development has plans to include a hotel and the Holmdel library in the space as well.
“This is a destination center,” explained Touhey, “not just for the 5,000+ people who eventually will work there, but for the whole community – homes and neighborhoods that surround this property. This center will be accessible 24/7, with retail, food, childcare, and eventually, even medical care. The forward-thinking repurposing of this property is what drove us to make a sound credit decision on this asset. We saw it as a real opportunity not just in making a sound lending decision, but in being able to make a difference to a community and its people.”
Importantly for Spengler and the Investors Bank team, this kind of project, which repurposes existing properties into useful, viable economic assets, falls directly into Investors’ role as a community bank. “This is what we at Investors are all about,” said Spengler. “By actively supporting the transformation of the Bell Works facility, we are directly connecting with Investors Bank’s role as a community-focused bank. Our corporate mission involves improving the lives of people and the neighborhoods in the communities we serve. Our team is very proud to be part of this project because it will help bring jobs, economic development, and stable, sustainable growth to our communities.”
Investors Bank would welcome any inquiries to work on similar real estate projects that can help the surrounding community. Our Commercial Real Estate team is available to speak with you.