GLASSBORO — As construction crews continue to labor away with another building nearing completion, the redevelopment project on Rowan Boulevard is working to reshape a once barren area into a new, vibrant downtown district.
But transforming the boulevard into a downtown attraction — hustling and bustling with foot traffic and retail — could take some time to achieve and its success remains to be seen.
Since breaking ground in 2009, the roughly $350-million, 26-acre project led by public-private partnership between Glassboro, Rowan University and private developers is about 70 percent complete and already has brought a new Marriott Hotel, Barnes & Noble bookstore, a 1.5-acre town square and a nearly 1,200-space parking garage to accompany the several restaurants and retail destinations, to name a few.
Making a Vision a Reality
The plan involves the development of several mixed-use buildings comprised of housing, commercial, retail and academic space, which developers believe will not only generate foot traffic, but create a dynamic and buzzing district where students and young professionals will want to live.
Next month, 220 Rowan Boulevard — a 316,000-square-foot mixed-use building that offers 119 units for Rowan students and 57 luxury apartments for private residents — will open and welcome its first tenants.
With much of the interior work already complete, this upscale building is fitted with large kitchens, spacious living rooms and bedrooms, hardwood floors, and a view spanning the entire downtown district. Roughly 95 percent of units have been rented, according to Glassboro officials.
The building also provides 27,000 square feet of medical space on the first floor for urgent, primary and orthopedic care along with retail stores also on the first floor.
“The best part is the housing with the mix of retail,” said Rowan University spokesman Joe Cardona. “Which will be geared toward students, as well as … a broader clientele.”
Since opening in 2011, buildings like the Whitney Center — a modern mixed-use building with 22,000 square feet of retail space and housing for up to 300 Rowan students — is staged to be one of the central hubs for foot traffic in the area and perfectly exemplifies this intermixed strategy.
“It adds density to the downtown and supports the retail, so it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Gloucester County Freeholder Heather Simmons, who also serves as Glassboro’s public information officer.
Another example is the new Enterprise Center, which opened in 2013. The five-story, $35-million facility is also compounded with retail and academic space.
Dramatic Change Needs Patience
But even with this list of developments, a stroll down Rowan Boulevard can still often be a cloistered experience. Though there is more foot traffic during the school year, the area is often desolate during the summertime.
“This is just the beginning,” Cardona said. “It is not instantaneous, and it won’t be, all of a sudden a mass of people arriving there overnight. Just like anything else, this takes time — for people to see it as a resource — and becoming accustomed to coming to Glassboro.”
The Unforeseen Obstacle of Growth
The concept for Rowan Boulevard dates back more than a decade and originally sought to connect the Rowan campus and downtown as well as redevelop an area that had been in decline.
But with student enrollment at Rowan skyrocketing at an unprecedented rate in recent years — with 1,400 additional students in this past year alone — developers were forced to adapt and rework plans to accommodate the influx of students.
Constructing additional buildings was seen as the only way to address the issue.
“The residential component has become very important to the university because of such great (student) growth (anticipated) over the next 10 years,” Simmons said.
Officials project student enrollment to just about double by 2023, from more than 12,000 students to about 25,000.
The project is expected to be completed in 2018.
The next phase of construction will take place in 2016 with the development of two additional parcels in the area, which are also likely to be mixed-use facilities — though Simmons said exact plans have not yet been finalized.