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Glassboro's Revitalization
Moves Forward

Leo McCabe
By Leo McCabe
Mayor, Borough of Glassboro

Rowan Boulevard is a key component of Glassboro’s plan to create the quintessential college town and to revitalize its downtown.  

The plan was to create a new corridor, known as Rowan Boulevard, that would link Rowan University with Glassboro’s downtown business district. This would create a positive impact on Rowan University enrollments and bring the students’ spending power directly through the doors of downtown businesses.

It has become much more than that. Glassboro’s revitalization has blossomed into a multifaceted, intergenerational development. It is bringing new life and activity back to our downtown, and making Glassboro a must-visit destination. While the students have been the focal point, we aren’t catering solely to them. We are creating a live-work-play environment with new residences and businesses for all ages and interests.

The new, $300 million Rowan Boulevard revitalization project is entering a new phase of construction in 2010, as the first of five, four-story mixed-use buildings with a total of 40,000 square feet of office space, 185,000 square feet of retail space, and 307,000 square feet of residential space will begin, as well as a new national brand hotel.

Groundbreaking for the A-1 building is expected in July or early August, 2010. The building will include 22,000 square feet of retail space on its ground floor and housing and multipurpose space for Rowan University honors students on its upper floors. Plans for the hotel and conference center with more than 100 rooms and a restaurant/banquet facility also continue, with the design phase now beginning and groundbreaking anticipated by mid-summer. The start of the A-2 and A-3 buildings is planned for the 4th quarter, 2010, with A-2 offering 38,000 square feet of retail space and market rate housing above, and the A-3 building offering 40,000 square feet of retail space plus senior housing. This will bring an intergenerational facet to the boulevard.

Artist rendering of Glassboro's new A-1 retail buildingGlassboro’s new A-1 retail building will include 22,000 sq. ft of retail space and a Rowan University Honors College. It is about to begin construction.

Rowan Boulevard is really taking off. The project’s developer, Sora Holdings, LLC, has a list of interested retailers and restaurants waiting for this phase of construction to get underway. The boulevard is destined to be a new retail hub not only for thousands of Rowan University students, but also hundreds of thousands of residents in Glassboro and the surrounding region. As many as 60 new retail stores, including a dozen restaurants, are expected on the new boulevard, boosting the local economy by more than $48 million annually when completed in 2012. More than 70,000 square feet of retail space already has been reserved in the project, which officially broke ground in March, 2009.

Being developed in public/private partnership between the Borough of Glassboro, Sora Holdings, of Sewell, NJ and Towson, MD, and Rowan University, Glassboro’s revitalization is an example of what can be accomplished with a concerted effort, hard work and thorough planning by the members of Borough Council, Sora executives and Rowan officials.

Plans Becoming Bricks and Mortar We’re well beyond the initial concept and planning stage. The boulevard’s roadway curbing and basecoat are now in place. In August, 2009, construction was completed on Phase I of new Rowan University student housing for 560 students while construction simultaneously began on a 36,000 square foot Barnes & Noble Collegiate Superstore, the boulevard’s first major retailer, and Phase II of student housing for another 324 students. Completion of the Phase II student housing is expected in July or early August, and the Barnes & Noble in November, 2010.

Phase 1 of Rowan University student housing complex.
Phase I of Rowan University student housing complex on Rowan Boulevard, for 560 students, is now open. Phase II is under construction

Also last August, construction of a new Rt. 322 roundabout was completed, providing a safer roadway link between the university’s main campus and Rowan Boulevard. In September, spurred by Rowan Boulevard’s development, construction began on the first new business in Glassboro’s Arts & Entertainment District, the Let’s Dance Studio. The new studio is more than doubling the size of its old facility in a new 14,160 square foot building containing a 2,160 square foot atrium, 11 classrooms and suites, a café and a retail store.

The Rowan Boulevard project is the heart of a downtown revitalization which is forming a new 26-acre, 100-foot wide corridor stretching a third of a mile from the foot of the Rowan University campus to the center of downtown. The new boulevard will feature broad tree-lined sidewalks, dozens of stores, restaurants featuring café-style sidewalk dining, residential condos and town homes, a new student housing campus, a hotel-conference center, pedestrian plazas and a town square. There is approximately $70 million committed to construction now underway, with many additional project components in various stages of planning and design preceding funding allocations.

Sora Holdings, LLC’s private investment in Rowan Boulevard is $300 million, with an additional $3 million for roadway construction funded by NJDOT and federal sources and a $1 million Rowan University grant provided to the Borough of Glassboro for planning and preconstruction expenses. Never losing sight of the best interests of the taxpayers and residents of Glassboro, all Rowan Boulevard property was acquired without the use of eminent domain and 100 percent of all pre-existing annual property taxes (approximately $260,000) are currently being paid by Sora Holdings to the Borough of Glassboro while Rowan Boulevard construction is underway. In addition, all bonded financing, including interest (approximately $20 million) used for property acquisition is being repaid to the borough by Sora. The project has set precedents for successful public/private partnership development.

The Catalyst for Citywide Revitalization Rowan Boulevard is the cornerstone of a much larger revitalization encompassing a total of 81-acres in several adjoining neighborhoods in Glassboro’s downtown. Overall, Glassboro’s entire revitalization, including Rowan Boulevard, is expected to feature more than 125 new retail stores with the potential of infusing the local economy with $225 million in annual sales when fully completed. The revitalized downtown will offer abundant office space, new restaurants and a public promenade lined with outdoor dining, hundreds of new town home and condo residences, cultural attractions and a new performing arts center offering a year-round repertoire of theater, music, dance, film and comedy performances.

The boulevard’s mix of uses forms distinct, walkable areas, creating a live-work-play environment that will be mutually enjoyed by office workers, shoppers, residents, students and visitors. Each of the adjoining neighborhoods surrounding the boulevard complement one another and offer attractions all their own. It’s an extremely enjoyable environment, one that makes you look forward to being there, and one that offers a very convenient and appealing lifestyle for its residents.

Despite the nation’s continued weak economic climate, Rowan Boulevard is forging ahead on schedule and funding is in hand. The key to its success is strategic development based upon facts that reflect the best, sustainable interests of prospective businesses and the host community. The planning process required eight years and conducting a comprehensive study analyzing Glassboro’s market to determine specific, viable strategies. More than 100 types of retail operations were analyzed, which included surveying residents, businesses, property owners, elected officials and a virtually ignored market of students and staff on the campus of Rowan University, bordering downtown. The study revealed that student discretionary spending was $18.3 million annually, of which only 18 percent was being captured by Glassboro’s downtown businesses. There was a glaring absence of specific stores and products desired—and needed—by Glassboro’s residential and workforce population base.

Along with the business and cultural facets gained by the revitalization, the increased tax revenues and jobs created by the development are invaluable to the community, especially in this period of national economic decline. Rowan Boulevard is expected to generate $1.2 million in new property taxes, 400 temporary construction jobs and more than 700 new permanent jobs.

We envisioned the epitome of college towns. We are creating a new community, and establishing a vibrant social and cultural presence with a feeling of identity and interactivity among everyone who lives, works, studies and visits there.

 


This article appeared in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 87, Number 4, April 2010

 

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