New Jersey is Growing a Metroburb – Here’s What it Means for You

2016 Major League Hacking Annual #Hackathon with Viacom interns, iCIMS and many others. 

There is a shift in the suburban landscape as millennials and other established professionals search for perfection — the best of urban life including walkable neighborhoods and easy access to routine destinations like grocery stores, clinics and restaurants — all in a suburban location that offers plenty of what’s best in suburbia like trees, hiking trails, and lots of open space. At Bell Works, Somerset Development’s Ralph Zucker is turning that dream into reality for thousands of local residents and businesses.

Set back in the trees of Holmdel, New Jersey on the site of the former Bell Labs complex, Bell Works is taking shape as a tiny city neighborhood housed in a 2 million square foot building.

“It’s the same size as the Empire State Building, just on its side,” says Zucker.

Somerset is preserving much of the architectural legacy of Eero Saarinen’s mid-century masterpiece with a European style piazza inside it’s glass walls. It’s five stories of office space are quickly filling up with established tech companies McCann Systems and iCIMS, as well as plenty of pioneering start ups like NVIDIA and WorkWave.

But it’s the ground floor that’s likely to change the way New Jerseyans live.

NPZ Style + Decor co-working space for vi Innovation Hub

Crews are working day and night here (especially at night), renovating spaces for new tenants right alongside offices already occupied by start-ups and firms in marketing, architecture, technology and entertainment. They’re also rehabbing common spaces that tenants and the public alike are invited to enjoy.

Just outside the affectionately dubbed Big Bang Cafe, construction crews work to build an expansive rooftop patio that overlooks Japanese gardens originally designed by American landscape architects Sasaki, Walker & Associates. Inside along the quarter mile pedestrian walkway between the connected buildings, workers swap out another 1980’s panel wall for the clear glass partitions that will be retail storefronts, restaurants, bars, a coffee shop, even a hair stylist. There’s likely to be a doctor’s office and a daycare, too, along with a gym and maybe your lawyer’s and accountant’s office.

What’s happening at Bell Works, says Zucker, the visionary behind the project, is a metroburb.

“Metroburb”, a term coined by the New Urbanist movement, is an urban hub, a core, a little metropolis in a suburban location. Zucker describes it to visitors like this, “A large-scale mixed use building, with great access, office, retail, entertainment, hospitality, residential, health, wellness, fitness, everything you would find in a metropolis but in a great suburban location. Think Red Bank, Morristown and New Brunswick.”

Other metroburbs, like Huntington Beach, California — Surf City — are proof of that the concept thrives. Established metroburbs boast a very high percentage of white collar workers (74% of total workforce on average) and some of the lowest crime rates and best performing schools (The Demand Institute). Metroburb communities are stable, safe and attractive places to live and work, constantly generating and attracting opportunity.

And millennials aren’t the only influential demographic demanding a better life balance and more effective integration of work and home responsibilities. Take Christian DiMare, Founder of Bridge Technology and one of the newest members of the Bell Works community. DiMare recruits highly skilled tech talent and places them with industry leaders who are pushing business forward through innovative digital platforms. He works with both millennials and veteran professionals with established reputations as highly valued employees, placing them in highly desirable job opportunities.

“These are people who can pick and choose where they work, and with whom they work,” says DiMare. “More and more, they’re coming to me with aspirations that include not spending three hours a day commuting to the City (New York). Oh, they still want all the opportunity and the excitement of working in a place like New York, but they want it closer to a home that offers them a chance to live around parks, with views of trees and the chance for backyard barbeques.”

And that’s why Bell Works is winning over tenant after tenant — by offering a near perfect combination of urban and suburban assets. Even local residents, some of whom had serious misgivings when the Bell Works project was first introduced, are becoming more and more excited as the project moves from concept boards and CGI presentations to a reality they can walk through and see in action. In the October 20, 2016, digital edition of The Journal, Eric Hinds, former mayor of Holmdel, affirmed this, saying, “Real companies with real jobs are coming together to create this new ‘live-work-play’ compound that will allow people to have great jobs without having to commute an hour to get to work.”

Jonathan Foster, Design Build Project Manager at Nicholl Field Design, a tenant of vi Collaboration Hub’s coworking space at Bell Works, describes the metroburb appeal using a time-honored liet motif — food, “There is a new planning standard for compressing the distance of live and work and the private sector is following suit with retrofitting spaces like malls. The Pad development that serves the typical hamburger isn’t the desired choice for professionals. Lunch breaks don’t happen often or for a set amount of time. That’s where the convenience comes from, not a crappy hamburger.”

It’s just a coffee stand now inside the Bell Works Cafe but Booskerdoo will grow into a full coffee bar this summer to serve large crowds. And they’re going to need to. Companies like iCIMS aren’t stocking their new office with coffee pots or cafeterias, instead says Deborah Walsh, workplace services executive for the company, CEO Colin Day wants his employees out and about meeting other people when they need a caffeine break.

According to Nancy Erickson, Executive Managing Director of Retail Sales with Colliers International, New Jersey, other tenants are following suit, foregoing in-office kitchens and coffee stations to promote networking and interaction. Bell Works will support this with as many as 2,000 seats scattered throughout common areas where workers can get a change of scenery while they work on their laptop or have meetings in a casual setting.

“The whole building will be open,” she said.

Where completely open offices have failed for some, the open access of the airport sized building at Bell Works – and the built-in city feel – is something Zucker knows is the future of work.

“Millennials are no longer chained to their desks,” he said, “and we can’t force them to go to mind-numbing office parks. We no longer work 9-5, and it has changed the fabric of our society.”

In an interview with NPR this summer Chris Sullens CEO of WorkWave, and one of Bell Works’ first tech lessees, said it was this exact quality that made him choose to move his local software company which employees many millennials.

“They want to work with great technology. They want to work with great people. And they want to do it in an environment that they like to come to work in,” Sullens told NPR’s Joel Rose. “From our standpoint, we get that feel and vibe here at Bell Works.”

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