Ralph Zucker had every reason to be optimistic at his latest groundbreaking — even if he didn’t actually break any physical ground.
“Campus” is the latest innovation at the you-have-to-see-it-to-understand Bell Works “metroburb” in Holmdel. Zucker, the head of Somerset Development, unveiled plans to transform 72,000 square feet of space into made-to-order offices for medium-sized businesses and enterprises.
The workspaces at Campus will be fully furnished and fully wired and offer businesses the ability to lease both small and large footprints, depending on whatever their needs are for growth.
“We Run Your Office — You Run Your Business” is the tagline.
But it just as easily could have been: “Is it time to rethink suburban office?”
Zucker, who has been proving doubters wrong for nearly a decade at Bell Works, is talking with many business owners who have.
In October, Bell Works announced that 52 of what it is calling its “ready-to-wear” designer office suites now are 100% leased. And there’s a waiting list for a space, almost all of which are in the 750-2,000-square-foot range.
Campus is the same concept, just a little bigger.
“As more companies and their workers continue their return to the office, many are seeking a high degree of flexibility, both in their physical environment and the terms of their lease,” Zucker said “Campus presents a unique solution for all of their needs — offering a stylish and appealing space that employees will be eager to visit, as well as the ability to adjust the footprint and design of their office as their business continues to evolve.”
Anyone who is on the road at 7 a.m. knows there are far more cars than there have been since the pandemic started.
Slowly but surely, workers are returning — in some fashion — to offices.
Onyx Equities, which has bet heavily on suburban office, said leasing is up, even if companies haven’t completely brought all their people back.
“People want to feel connected again,” co-founder and Principal Jonathan Schultz has said many times.
And, while Mack-Cali Realty Corp. can’t get out of the space fast enough, others — such as the Birch Group — are jumping in with two feet, buying buildings in Jersey City, Princeton, Short Hills and especially the greater Morristown area.
“We strongly believe in the vitality and viability of the suburban New Jersey office market, which has been hampered by the pandemic but is positioned for a strong rebound,” Birch Group CEO Mark Meisner said.
Developers aren’t the only ones excited.
When Fiserv decided it wanted to consolidate its New Jersey locations while adding thousands more to its workforce, it knew it wanted to be in the suburbs, Chief Operating Officer Guy Chiarello said.
“We wanted to create an environment where people would want to come to an office, every day, if not most days a week — but also create an environment that will be close to where they lived, give them the opportunity to raise children and do all the things they want to do,” he said.
“So, it’s really a convergence of many things coming together, but I do believe the pandemic has had some psychological effect on our employees wanting this option.”
Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, and Jose Lozano, the CEO of Choose New Jersey, are charged with selling New Jersey. Or, at least, the concept of New Jersey as a place to bring your business.
More and more, they say, companies are asking about suburban opportunities.
“Suburban real estate certainly has a new lease on life,” Sullivan said. “You have companies like Fiserv that are thinking about wanting to have more space, a little more control over their own real estate, in terms of being one of the only tenants in a building — or the only tenant.”
That, of course, is not the case in Bell Works. But that only proves the point: Suburban offices of different size and concept are drawing attention.
Set to open in the first quarter of 2022, the workspaces at Campus will provide the option for teams to easily return to an office environment and maintain a physical location amid a thriving community. Businesses at Campus gain seamless access to breakout rooms, conferencing facilities and the host of retail and dining options on the Block at Bell Works.
At least that’s the way Jeff Garibaldi, CEO of the Garibaldi Group, which is Bell Works’ exclusive office leasing team, sees it.
“Bell Works has long been known as a place where design and innovation take center stage, and Campus is a natural extension of those concepts that meets the fast-changing needs of today’s office tenant,” he said.
“Today’s groundbreaking brings us one step closer to a brand-new offering that will continue to solidify this building’s place as the most forward-thinking and attractive office environment in New Jersey and the Northeast.”
And a place that may serve as a symbol of a return to the suburbs.