2007: The township council has created a nonpartisan citizens’ advisory board to evaluate the plans presented by PREI and to determine the best use of the property. PREI conducted a community outreach meeting on June 19, 2007, stressing the need for 300 homes on the property to make their project viable.
11/07: It has been revealed that the purchase agreement between Alcatel-Lucent and developer PREI Properties did not close, and the developer and owner are in continued discussion about the building.
1/08: Developer PREI properties have chosen to withdraw their purchase offer and the future of Bell Labs remains uncertain.
3/08: A coalition of advocacy groups have come together and include PNJ, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Citizens for Informed Land Use (CILU) of Holmdel, DOCOMOMO-US (Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement), the Recent Past Preservation Network, The Cultural Landscape Foundation and AIA-New Jersey. The Coalition to Save Bell Labs organized an educational/informational workshop, conducted by renowned curator Donald Albrecht, on October 30, 2007, for local citizens about the history and significance of the building and its landscape.
4/08: A charrette to discuss alternative, economically feasible options was held April 11 to April 13, 2008, in the Senior Citizens Center in Holmdel. For more information about the three day charrette and the resulting findings, please visit http://preservationnj.wordpress.com/ Download the final report of the April 2008 Design Charrette.
1/09: Somerset Development, and residential and mixed-use developer, has proposed a plan to develop a “town center” at the Bell Labs property. The center would include rehabilitation of the Bell Labs Building into retail, dining, office, medical, higher education, event and residential space.
3/09: Planning firm Reva Partners has released a report, commissioned by the Township of Holmdel, which recommends demolition of the Bell Labs building and redevelopment of the site. Suggested uses include a private 18-hole golf course; private homes buffering the golf course on 4 to 5 acres marketed at approximately $2 to $3 million; 150 age-restricted detached homes; a state-of-the-art equestrian center; a movie studio; and recreational trails.
9/2009: Somerset Development, the developer currently negotiating with Alcatel-Lucent to purchase Bell Labs, continues to try to work with the town of Holmdel to obtain a response to their development plans, which have thus far gone unacknowledged. A public open house hosted by Somerset in the building in September drew over 1,000 attendees. Township Committee members did not attend.
3/2010: The Coalition to Save Bell Labs was one of five advocacy groups involved in a March 25 summit, hosted by PNJ, focusing on reinvigorating advocacy for previously-listed “10 Most Endangered” places.
12/2010: Citing growing concerns about the cost of maintenance while the future of Bell Labs is decided, Alcatel-Lucent has given the Township of Holmdel and Somerset Development an ultimatum: if by March 2011, the two groups cannot demonstrate collaboration and a commitment to moving forward with a redevelopment plan that would allow Alcatel-Lucent to sell Bell Labs, the owner plans to demolish the building. The debate over what the Township wants to be done with the property continues.
5/2011: Holmdel Mayor Patrick Impreveduto announced May 5 that Alcatel-Lucent has delayed their deadline for an agreement between the township and Somerset Development until early fall, 2011. The township committee designated the property as an “area in need of rehabilitation” on the same night, which reportedly allows the township and Somerset Development to draft a much more detailed redevelopment agreement than has been presented thus far. While the township has indicated most recently that it does not want to see Bell Labs demolished, the feasibility of a timely agreement remains in question.
5/2011: Holmdel officials have announced that they are moving forward with drafting a redevelopment plan for Bell Labs, with input from Alcatel-Lucent and Somerset Development.
6/2011: On June 15, Holmdel leadership partnered with Somerset Development to host a public review of the current state of plans for Bell Labs. While Alcatel-Lucent’s fall deadline for a redevelopment plan looms, Holmdel and Somerset Development are entertaining an array of potential uses for the Bell Labs building, including a health club, an ambulatory care facility, and a township library, in conjunction with the proposed residential uses.
11/2011: Holmdel has introduced an ordinance that would adopt a new redevelopment plan for the Bell Labs property. The proposed plan, which is available on the township’s website, acknowledges that preserving the central Bell Labs building is in the public interest. However, the plan also calls for intensive new development throughout the surrounding Sasaki-Walker designed landscape. PNJ is encouraged by the plan’s recognition of the importance of preserving the Bell Labs building, but the surrounding landscape is an integral part of this property’s overall significance, and we remain adamant that it, too, should be fully preserved.
3/2012: Somerset Development has backed away from the Bell Labs property, but a new potential buyer, Florida-based Elsie Sterling Oversight, LLC, has contracted to purchase. They have announced no specific plans for the property.
10/2012: Somerset Development is back in the picture, and has signed a contract to purchase Bell Labs. They are currently scheduled to close on the property on December 31.
3/2013: Holmdel has named Somerset Development the official redeveloper of the Bell Labs property. The firm currently remains under contract to purchase the property from Alcatel-Lucent.
The only New Jersey building designed by world-renowned architect Eero Saarinen, this massive six-story research, and development facility, now part of Alcatel-Lucent, is a major work of mid twentieth-century modernism. Initially built between 1959 and 1962, the building was expanded in 1962 and 1985 to reach its current 2 million square foot dimensions. The rectangular lab’s most distinctive features are its grand atrium and mirrored glass exterior, as well as its site in a 472-acre designed landscape that is itself significant. At its peak, 6000 people worked in the facility. As home to Bell Labs for nearly half a century, the site spurred technological advancements that have literally shaped our worlds, such as the transistor and the cell phone. Bell Labs saw the work of six Nobel Prize winners and was the site of the discovery of radio astronomy by Karl Jansky in 1932. Among other breakthroughs, the empirical evidence that confirmed the “big bang” theory of the creation of the universe occurred at the Horn Antenna which is on the Crawford Hill site of Bell Labs.
Bell_atriumIn March 2006 Lucent announced it had sold the property to a developer, Preferred Real Estate Investments (PREI), who intended to raze the “obsolete” building in favor of a series of smaller corporate offices. Bowing to a storm of protest, the developer agreed to preserve the exterior of the first phase construction and the atrium, roughly one-third of the edifice. But he insisted on gutting the interior and replacing the distinctive mirrored glass on the exterior. Subsequently, PREI announced that the real estate market would not support as much office space as it had first estimated and that building 300 age-restricted residential units would be necessary to “unlock the value” of the property.
This is a difficult problem. Holmdel needs tax revenue from the nearly 500 acres property, but it is a groundwater recharge area that feeds a reservoir which a quarter of a million people drink from. The property should not be built beyond 20 percent coverage. The Mayor of Holmdel wants to “do the right thing,” and she has appointed a task force. PNJ thinks that the right thing must include preservation of a substantial portion, including its landscape setting, of this monument of 20th-century architecture.
Sam and Anne Shramko, Citizens for Informed Land Use