Changing Times Brings About the Repurposing of Former Corporate Campuses in NJ

An excerpt from, written by Steve Lubetkin

November 2015
Lauren Moore, Executive Director, NJ Business Action Center

TRENTON, NJ—The New Jersey State Business Action Center is trying to facilitate redevelopment projects that are transforming former corporate campuses across New Jersey.

The center has played an integral role in the successful start of redevelopment projects involving several office campuses throughout New Jersey.

“What we learned there was that it is very important to engage the municipality on what the opportunities are to redevelop the site, how to work on the revisions to land use and master plans, how to work on public transportation to get workers there, and we put together an inventory of vacant corporate campuses across New Jersey,” says Moore.

Armed with that high-level inventory—and case-studies describing the successful redevelopment of several campuses—Moore and Gerard Scharfenburger, director of the state’s Office for Planning Advocacy, developed a road show targeting towns where other vacant corporate sites remained underused.

“We mapped out all of the properties that fit the criteria, and we set up four regional meetings throughout the state,” says Scharfenburger. “Not every corporate campus is going to have a single entity come in and use it the way it was previously, so we had to get across to the municipalities that they would have to change their thinking to repurpose these properties successfully.”

Large corporate office campuses were frequently the largest taxpayers in a locality, so the closures caused a huge hit to local tax revenues and municipal budgets, Scharfenburger says.

“New Jersey is unique because we are a home rule state,” Moore says. “Jurisdiction falls with the local municipality, not at the county level like in other states.”
As a result, developers have to persuade local municipal officials of the wisdom of their approach, rather than dealing with county or state officials for approvals.
Bell Works, Somerset Development’s repurposing of the two million square foot Bell Labs site, took years to get the blessing of local officials, who needed persuasion to relax the site’s single-tenant, research facility zoning that would have prevented use of the site for multiple companies.

“That is one of our success stories,” says Moore. “Municipalities think they’re just going to get another single tenant in there, but the world has changed and we want to make sure that they see the opportunities with an open mind. We want to see this real estate stock become modern. It’s antiquated and it’s time for more than a facelift for this real estate stock to come into the 21st Century. We need to bring our real estate product up to modern standards, and the municipalities have to be a part of the conversation.”

UPDATE: Former Bell Labs Site Signs First Tenants

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