While it held 6,000 Bell Labs staffers at its peak, it wentcompletely vacant in 2005 after Alcatel bought Bell Labs' successorcompany, Lucent, and the remaining 1,000 or so employees wererelocated to sites in Murray Hill and Whippany. Lucent agreed tosell itto Conshohocken, PA-based Preferred Real Estate Investments inearly 2006 for a reported $250 million, but the deal fell apartthis past November after PREI failed to get a redevelopment planapproved.

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At issue was that the original building was designed by renownedFinnish architect Eero Saarinen, his only New Jersey building, andthat most of Bell Labs' innovations over a 50-year period came outof the site. PREI's various proposals including demolishing most orall of the historic complex. And a proposal to add 300 housingunits to the redevelopment mix drew significant opposition.

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"The Bell Labs complex conjures up deep feelings among allarchitects as it is the embodiment of the genius that was EeroSaarinen," says Seth Leeb, president of AIA-NJ, one of thecoalition participants. The others include Preservation New Jersey,the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the NJ ConservationFoundation and several more.

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"Bell Labs is as important to New Jersey and technology as theGateway Arch is to St. Louis and westward expansion, and the TWATerminal at JFK and Dulles Airport itself are to New York,Washington, DC and aviation," Leeb says.

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And the coalition has scheduled a three-day charrette for April11-13 at the Holmdel Senior/Community Center to develop designapproaches to preserve the complex while finding new uses for it.In terms of possible usage, the property is zoned for low-densitycoverage in order to preserve a major groundwater rechargearea.

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"Significant innovative interdisciplinary design proposals arerequired if this landmark is to find the new commercial uses thatwill allow for its preservation," says John D.S. Hatch, presidentof Preservation New Jersey.

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