Bell Works Chicagoland -- the office, retail and residential redevelopment of the 1.65 million-square-foot former AT&T headquarters in Hoffman Estates -- announced its first two tenants Thursday.
CPA Advisors Group, a full-service accounting firm moving from Rolling Meadows, will begin occupying 1,500 square feet of the self-proclaimed Metroburb's "ready-to-wear" office space in December.
Chicago-based Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea will open a kiosk the same month, with plans to open a permanent location with a full cocktail bar in early 2022.
"These are not large leases, but they're significant," said Ralph Zucker, president of New Jersey-based Somerset Development, "The bottom line is it's more difficult to get your first small lease than the last big lease."
Somerset has a track record of repurposing large office properties into self-contained communities, as with its original Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey. But the pandemic has had some impact on the Hoffman Estates project's early momentum, even as interior reconstruction of the former corporate headquarters has been occupying most of the year, Zucker said.
"There's no question that it put a pause in the marketplace," he said of the pandemic. "The retail per se isn't going to thrive until people can walk around freely."
But Zucker praised what he called the forward thinking of a company like Fairgrounds, whose kiosk is just a first step in its commitment to Bell Works.
"They're not opening today just for today," Zucker said. "This is a big step into the future."
In a statement, Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea founder and CEO Michael Schultz described how he saw the move.
"Bringing Fairgrounds to Bell Works Chicagoland is an incredibly exciting venture for us," Schultz said. "The 'Metroburb' concept -- combining urbanity in suburbia -- offers a dynamic and vibrant environment we immediately knew we wanted to be a part of. We look forward to becoming a founding member of such a celebrated endeavor and addition to the Hoffman Estates community."
CPA Advisors Group owner and President Martin Wojtulewicz discussed his firm's willingness to be a pioneer.
"We wanted to move into something a little more modern so our workflow would be easier," he said.
The new office also will allow his employees to spread out a little more during the pandemic. And when things return to normal, Bell Works will offer the opportunity to meet with clients in either formal or informal settings there, Wojtulewicz said.
The large amount of office space available at Bell Works also creates the potential for related firms to move in too and create a concentrated financial powerhouse for clients, he added.
The $200 million redevelopment is planned to ultimately provide 1.2 million square feet of office space, 60,000 square feet of conference space, storage and amenities, and 60,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space.
"Bell Works Chicagoland represents so much of Hoffman Estates' appeal to residents and businesses: the ability to forge connections and build community within arms reach of the city," Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod said in a statement. "That the former AT&T facility will once again welcome workers through its doors is an encouraging sign for Bell Works and a milestone for Hoffman Estates as a whole."