After four years of working on a complex mixed use plan for development of the 473-acre Alcatel Lucent property on Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel, Ralph Zucker, the president of Somerset Development, lost control of the project last Febrary when a Florida real estate investment firm trumped his offer with a better one.
At the time, Zucker made a public statement that he would be willing and able to return to step back in as the master developer, if circumstances changed. Elsie Sterling Oversight, meanwhile, reached out to Zucker and asked if he would be interested in rehabilitating the huge Bell Labs building, and there were discussions.
But when the deal between the Sterling Oversight and Alcatel-Lucent fell apart recently, Zucker seized the opportunity. Last week he signed a contract with Alcatel-Lucent. He has plans to close the deal by the end of the year, if not sooner. "We're pleased to be back in the driver's seat, no doubt about it," he said in an interview Thursday.
Zucker's mixed use plan for the prime property and four buildings was introduced to Holmdel on June 15, 2011 by Mayor Patrick Impreveduto at a presentation at the Community Center, attended by 125 people. (See videos). Somerset Development also held an open house in the Bell Labs building in September 2009, attended by more than 1,000 people.
The township's Alcatel-Lucent Redevelopment Plan, a vision statement crafted by Holmdel professionals and elected officials that describes community priorities for the site, is the framework Zucker must work within. "It's a plan we've been advocating for," he said. "We're not looking to do anything except for what's in the Redevelopment Plan."
The construction of up to 40 single family large-lot homes and 185 age-restricted townhomes, all connected by sewers, is permitted at the site under the Redevelopment Plan.
"We have no intention to seek any relief or add any density," Zucker said. "It is a very large site with wetlands, and wetlands buffers, so the space for housing is limited," he said.
His vision for the huge vacant building and outlying buidings is to tranform the complex into an "animated, great public space" with a focus on health and wellness services, a surgi-center, a variety of office tenants, retail shops, a health club, coffee shop, a hotel, and a township library facility. Zucker said he has the interest of a "significant medical user" which he would not name, and the firm is "actively engaged in talking with potential tenants" and "one or two hotel operators."
Somerset's next step is to complete a site plan for the enormous 1/4 mile-long building. "We are looking to do that towards beginning of next year, to flesh out specific details," he said.
A negotiated Redevelopment Agreement, a pact between a municipality and the developer for an "area in need of redevelopment," is also in the works, which will allow Somerset to sign leases with tenants at the appropriate time in the process. The agreement can also prevent the developer from "sitting" on the property, among other things, and is required by law, said Zucker.
"It’s a complicated site and we’ve spent a lot of time and money studying it," said Zucker. "We have a very nice competent team. Everybody put their heart and soul into it. We're gratified that at the end of the day we think the reason we are back as a contract purchaser is because we have the best understanding of Holmdel's vision, and how to work with the site."