A Case Study
By Leo J. McCabe
Mayor, Borough of Glassboro
Member, League Executive Board
Today the borough, Rowan University and Sora Holdings, LLC, have come together in a unique public-private partnership that began more than 10 years ago with a vision for a robust economic revitalization to benefit our residents, university students and local businesses. It is about restoring the concept of “downtown,” where shopping, working, living and playing take place together, in a cohesive, walkable community.
Because of the cooperative nature of this innovative relationship, progress on construction of Rowan Boulevard is unhindered by the constraints of the economy. Glassboro’s redevelopment and the Rowan Boulevard project are our community’s stimulus package, with a projected $48 million annual boost to the local economy upon completion in 2012. Sora has made a $300 million commitment to Rowan Boulevard, with an additional $3 million coming in for roadway construction from the New Jersey Department of Transportation and federal sources. Rowan University is also contributing a $1 million grant for planning and preconstruction expenses.
Rowan Boulevard is the cornerstone of a much larger revitalization encompassing a total of 81 acres in several adjoining neighborhoods in Glassboro’s downtown. The entire Glassboro revitalization, including Rowan Boulevard, is expected to draw more than 125 new retail stores, infusing the local economy with more than $225 million annually.
Our commitment in Glassboro remains with our residents, and it is important to note that all of the properties for the Boulevard were acquired without the use of eminent domain and all of the pre-existing annual property taxes are being paid by Sora. In fact, Sora is contributing $523,767 in revenue on Phase I of Student Housing and additional contributions this year alone. This is on a site that collected just $74,255 in annual revenue prior to redevelopment. At the same time, Sora will also contribute $3,050,051 toward debt service reduction this year. When completed, the project is expected to generate $1.2 million in new annual property taxes.
Phase I of the Rowan University student housing complex on Rowan Boulevard will house 560 students.
The project is also making 400 jobs possible on construction projects, with 700 new permanent positions projected upon completion. These jobs and revenue directly impact Glassboro taxpayers, helping Glassboro maintain a zero tax increase in this year’s budget.
About Rowan Boulevard Rowan Boulevard is an effort to create the quintessential college town. The road is designed to provide a direct link between the campus of Rowan University with the borough’s downtown retail district. A roundabout on Route 322 provides a safe transition from campus to the downtown hub, and will bring residents and students to Rowan Boulevard and toward our Arts and Entertainment District downtown.
The project restores the concept of smart growth living to Glassboro, with mixed-use buildings (intergenerational residential, retail, office, student housing, restaurants and hotel) in a walkable community setting. The Boulevard is forming a completely new 26-acre, 1/3-mile long corridor from the foot of the university campus to a 1.5 acre town square, and is expected to attract 60 new retail stores, including a dozen restaurants, boosting the local economy by more than $48 million annually when completed in 2012.
Rowan Boulevard is the cornerstone of a much larger revitalization encompassing a total of 81-acres in several adjoining neighborhoods in Glassboro’s downtown. The entire Glassboro revitalization, including Rowan Boulevard, is expected to draw more than 125 new retail stores, infusing the local economy with more than $225 million annually. As Rowan Boulevard’s popularity as a retail destination grows, these retail revenue projections also have the potential of increasing.
Spurred by the boulevard’s development, construction has begun on the first new business in Glassboro’s Arts & Entertainment District, the Let’s Dance Studio. Two other projects are underway in adjoining neighborhoods, including Summit Village, with 51 market-rate townhouses, and another new mixed-use retail/townhouse building.
Official groundbreaking for Rowan Boulevard took place in March 2009. All land acquisition has been completed, the project’s roadway curbing and basecoat are in place, and several buildings are in various stages of construction.
A new Rowan University student housing campus for 884 students already has opened on the boulevard and November, 2010, marked the opening of a 36,000 sq. ft. Barnes & Noble Collegiate Superstore, the boulevard’s first major retailer. The Whitney Center, Rowan Boulevard’s first mixed-use building featuring retail and Rowan University honors student housing and programs, began construction in October, and a 100-room Marriott Courtyard Hotel & Conference Center and a planned second retail building with a large, multi-tier parking garage, will begin construction in early 2011. Three additional mixed-use buildings offering retail, office space and residential housing also are planned next year. When complete in 2012, the boulevard will offer a total of 185,000 sq. ft. of retail space, 40,000 sq. ft. of office space and 307,000 sq. ft. of residential space.
Community Spaces and Public Improvements Downtown revitalization in Glassboro also includes new community spaces and public improvements. At the southern edge of Rowan Boulevard, a series of underutilized buildings, including a closed gas station, is being cleaned up and converted into a 1.5 acre town square. It will be pre-wired for sound and lights to allow for an estimated 75 events and activities each year. The goal is to provide public spaces for gathering and to encourage people to walk more and drive less.
A feasibility study for a new library in the downtown area has been completed and architects have drawn up a proposed site plan. An additional feasibility study is being conducted in partnership with Rowan University to determine the best way to provide trolley or bus service throughout the downtown area. The plan is to provide a low-cost transportation alternative to minimize car traffic downtown.
There are also preliminary plans for a Performing Arts Center with a 500-800 seat live performance theater that would host as many as 150 live performances annually and also serve as a community center during non-theater hours and the site of Rowan University theater-related classes.
Why It Works Five years ago a comprehensive Community Insights™ study was completed by the JGSC Group of Merchantville to determine the most effective manner to create economic growth and guide fact-based, sustainable strategies for Glassboro’s revitalization. The study determined that an estimated $425 million in potential annual retail sales leaks out of Glassboro. In addition, it found that Rowan University students spend $18.3 million annually, of which only 18 percent is currently captured by Glassboro.
Glassboro’s location was also a key factor in determining the projected success of a redevelopment effort here. Glassboro is located in the heart of Gloucester County, less than 30 minutes from Philadelphia and 45 minutes to Atlantic City and Wilmington, DE. Here we have easy access to major roadways including the NJ Turnpike,
I-295, Route 55, Route 47 and Route 322. Glassboro is home to 19,000 permanent residents and an additional 11,000 Rowan University students. The borough is also neighbor to more than 346,000 people living within 10 miles.
A new light-rail line—the Glassboro-Camden Line—is expected to extend southern New Jersey’s passenger
service, linking Glassboro with Philadelphia, Trenton and Atlantic City and providing easy access to downtown Glassboro for students, commuters and visitors. The proposed line is a project of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) and Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO) that would run along an existing rail line and use light rail vehicles similar to the NJ Transit River Line. An Environmental Impact Study is in the early stages, and the line is projected to be up and running by 2016.
Into the Future The original economic projections for Rowan Boulevard included the impact of putting students, new and long-time residents and workers on the street with Rowan Boulevard’s mixed use construction, and it also included projected benefits of new retail in neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Also being considered is the variable of entertainment and recreation dollars generated in the Arts and Entertainment district as well as events in the town square. The economic benefit of downtown redevelopment is far reaching, especially after the current anemic economy recovers somewhat.
Rowan Boulevard helps stabilize, if not increase, real estate values, despite today’s declining market. Revenue has already helped the borough governing body stabilize taxes, and may allow for tax reductions moving forward. Revenue dollars are also being used to leverage grant applications—including the $1.1 million federal stimulus grant to restore the town’s historic train station. And Glassboro is likely to benefit from continued interest, investment and revenue growth in years to come.
What was envisioned more than a decade ago is becoming a reality. We are re-energizing this community and establishing a vibrant social and cultural center that respects Glassboro’s identity and elevates it to the next stage. It is the epitome of smart growth, maximizing the components of sustainable infrastructure, location and population density through an innovative public-private collaboration. In Glassboro we are creating a downtown where residents, students, and business will live and work together to the benefit of everyone.