The first time Ralph Zucker named his real estate company, it came during a moment that would make many laugh — and make marketing and branding experts cringe.
Zucker, just starting out in the residential real estate business, was sitting in a construction trailer in Lakewood, needing a name to put on the LLC application. He looked out the window and saw a street sign that said, “Somerset Avenue.”
“So, I said, ‘Somerset Development,’” he said.
That’s it. That’s the way a company that would grow into a transformative real estate firm creating some of the most innovative adaptive reuse projects in the country — including Bell Works, the ahead-of-its-time “metroburb” in Holmdel — was named.
Today, the company gets a refresh: It will now be known as Inspired by Somerset Development, or simply, “Inspired.”
Zucker feels the name not only illustrates where the company is going — but how it got to where it is today.
“We like to create places that inspire people, that bring people together,” he said. “We felt that the word ‘inspired’ captures what we’re all about — especially noticing that the last three letters of the word inspired are R-E-D, which can stand for real estate development.”
Zucker said the Inspired team reimagines, repositions and redevelops sites that will improve quality of life while evoking a genuine sense of culture, community and place. As municipalities contemplate new ways to create a greater sense of place in their communities, Zucker said Inspired is ready to turn complex real estate challenges into opportunities for growth, uniquely understanding the various nuances to successfully transform underutilized properties.
It’s this belief that Zucker said inspired him to create his signature development, Bell Works, a now thriving (and nearly fully leased) live-work-play-shop community at the former Bell Labs facility.
The dormant, 2 million-square-foot former research facility that Zucker purchased in 2015 is now a thriving metroburb that serves as a cultural nucleus for the entire region, serving as one-of-a-kind destination for business and culture, complete with a blossoming ecosystem of technology, traditional offices, retail, dining, hospitality and a wide variety of housing options.
It also led to Wesmont Station, where the company partnered with New Jersey Transit to build an entirely new train station in Wood-Ridge. The former brownfield site adjacent to the train station — previously the home to the Curtiss-Wright airplane manufacturing factory — was redeveloped to create more than 1,500 townhomes and apartments, as well as retail and commercial uses to support the redevelopment area.
“With the launch of Inspired, we’re harnessing the lessons from our storied history, and building upon them for a new era of innovative and sustainable redevelopment,” Zucker said. “We will continue to direct our energy on creating places that truly inspire new ways to work, live or foster togetherness.”
Places such as Somerville Station — where Zucker is the master developer on a mixed-use development surrounding Somerville’s train station that will include 14 apartment buildings and 156 townhomes; two parking garages; 4,000 square feet of retail space; and a 2,600-square-foot community civic center.
Or Bell Works Chicagoland, a 150-acre metroburb being developed on a former AT&T corporate campus in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
“We know that traditional development practices cannot fulfill the evolving needs of our workplaces, living spaces or community hubs, which is why we’re actively on the hunt for underutilized properties throughout the country that need to be reimagined for the future,” Zucker said.
Mordechai Sidell, the company’s controller, said the new name reflects the mission and vision of the brand.
“Inspired brings a calculated departure from the norm, generating genuine excitement where some may have thought to be impossible,” he said. “Our company was formed around the concept of new urbanism — a development philosophy that promotes sustainable, walkable places — and collaboration has been the centerpiece of every one of our development initiatives.
“With this rebrand, we’re reaffirming our core mission and signaling our intent to share our methodology with municipalities throughout the U.S.”
Of course, changing a company name after nearly three decades of success might make branding experts cringe again.
Zucker isn’t fazed.
“There’s a risk in making the change,” he said. “But, when we started looking at who we are, and started thinking about our entire approach, we felt that we wanted something that expressed more of a passion for development and our passion for placemaking.”