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HOLMDEL, NJ-It encompasses two million sf on six floors, has 330,000-sf floorplates and occupies more than 470 valuable acres in Monmouth County. And a coalition of organizations has lined up to preserve it pretty much as is. The object of such attention is the now-vacant Bell Labs complex here, currently owned by Bell Labs’ successor Alcatel-Lucent.

While it held 6,000 Bell Labs staffers at its peak, it went completely vacant in 2005 after Alcatel bought Bell Labs’ successor company, Lucent, and the remaining 1,000 or so employees were relocated to sites in Murray Hill and Whippany. Lucent agreed to sell it to Conshohocken, PA-based Preferred Real Estate Investments in early 2006 for a reported $250 million, but the deal fell apart this past November after PREI failed to get a redevelopment plan approved.

At issue was that the original building was designed by renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, his only New Jersey building, and that most of Bell Labs’ innovations over a 50-year period came out of the site. PREI’s various proposals including demolishing most or all of the historic complex. And a proposal to add 300 housing units to the redevelopment mix drew significant opposition.

“The Bell Labs complex conjures up deep feelings among all architects as it is the embodiment of the genius that was Eero Saarinen,” says Seth Leeb, president of AIA-NJ, one of the coalition participants. The others include Preservation New Jersey, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the NJ Conservation Foundation and several more.

“Bell Labs is as important to New Jersey and technology as the Gateway Arch is to St. Louis and westward expansion, and the TWA Terminal at JFK and Dulles Airport itself are to New York, Washington, DC and aviation,” Leeb says.

And the coalition has scheduled a three-day charrette for April 11-13 at the Holmdel Senior/Community Center to develop design approaches to preserve the complex while finding new uses for it. In terms of possible usage, the property is zoned for low-density coverage in order to preserve a major groundwater recharge area.

“Significant innovative interdisciplinary design proposals are required if this landmark is to find the new commercial uses that will allow for its preservation,” says John D.S. Hatch, president of Preservation New Jersey.

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