Adaptive-reuse project to transform Eero Saarinen rooftop


HOLMDEL, NJ—In this time of guests wanting authentic experiences that enable them to be immersed in local culture, adaptive-reuse projects are attractive ventures. After all, what’s a better way for guests to feel a connection to their location than in a building that’s literally woven into the historical fabric of the area? For Somerset Development, the rooftop of the two-million-sq.-ft. former Bell Laboratories here, designed by Modernist architect Eero Saarinen, provided the perfect opportunity to create a single-story, 200-unit hotel. 

The hotel will be part of the six-story Bell Works, a “metroburb” being developed by Somerset Development, which will include a mix of office, retail, childcare, and health and wellness uses.

“Bell Works represents the liveliness and convenience of a city, situated within the quiet solitude of suburbia,” said Ralph Zucker, president of Somerset Development. “With hundreds of people flowing through the doors regularly—whether for work, food, retail or events—it only made sense to add hospitality to the host of experiences available at Bell Works. With the building welcoming 6,000 to 8,000 workers and visitors daily, a hotel serves to further accommodate everything they need without stepping foot off the campus. We believe the rooftop hotel will not only seamlessly contribute to Bell Works’ ‘live, work, play’ culture, but will also offer another exciting element to an already dynamic environment.”

The transformation is already in the planning stages; the hotel will be built on the perimeter of Bell Works’ rooftop, preserving its 60,000-sq.-ft. photovoltaic skylight, which provides light to the business campus and pedestrian street below. 

Zucker said that the company received 17 proposals from potential operators and is in the process of reviewing them. “We are targeting primarily high-end boutique operators with a strong national or regional presence that also have experience in operating conference centers,” he said.

With that high-end setting in mind, the hotel will offer guests a variety of amenities. “The hotel at Bell Works will offer guests all the luxurious amenities inherent to a first-class stay, all atop a building spanning a quarter mile and renowned for its architectural significance,” he said. “Staying at a room at this hotel will not only offer incredible views of the surrounding area, but also direct access to an open rooftop floor plan, expansive sundeck, refined lounge area and infinity pool. Plus, visitors can descend from the rooftop at any time and into the metroburb’s vibrant pedestrian street for food, shopping, recreation or entertainment.”

The pedestrian street has a multicultural food hall, run by the former executive chef of Tribeca Grill; a Montessori education facility; a premium fitness center; a beauty salon; several locally inspired restaurants; and plans for healthcare facilities.

Bell Works recently opened doors to the new Holmdel Township Library and Learning Center, which will feature a host of upgrades, including new educational programs and services, as well as updated technological infrastructure and a museum dedicated to preserving the building’s unique history. 

The hotel is expected to draw some of its guests from the corporate tenants in the building, including anchor tenant iCIMS, a provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) talent acquisition solutions; cloud-based business management and fleet management solutions company WorkWave; Guardian Life Insurance; International Flavors & Fragrances, a sensory experiences company; Acacia Communications, an optical transmissions manufacturer; Jersey Central Power & Light; MetTel, a New York City-based telecommunications firm; McCann Systems LLC, a national audiovisual company; NVIDIA Corporation, a publicly traded multi-platform technology firm; Spirent, an international telecommunications firm; Suttons, a worldwide logistics company; and two dedicated coworking facilities geared toward tech entrepreneurs and designers, respectively.

The building was originally constructed by Saarinen between 1962 and 1964. In its 40-plus-year history as the research headquarters for Bell Laboratories, Lucent and Alcatel-Lucent, the building housed a total of seven Nobel Prize winners, who conceived theories for the laser, the Big Bang theory, cellular technology, the transistor and other achievements.

Somerset Development purchased the property in 2013; it had sat empty for almost a decade after the phone company’s successors abandoned it and it sank into disrepair. Zucker felt that the property would be a perfect candidate for adaptive-reuse. “Adaptive-reuse ultimately presents an opportunity to preserve a building’s historical elements and its unique story—and those who successfully incorporate this into their projects will not only survive but thrive,” he said.

He continued, “In today’s shifting real estate landscape, it’s more important than ever to consider where people and companies want to be and the type of environment they want to be in. Adaptive-reuse projects offer a second chance to create a ‘sense of place’ while fulfilling new desires and meeting growing demands—whether it’s open-floor-plan offices or easy access to public transit.” HB