Students returning this month to two New Jersey state colleges will find big differences next to campus as developments materialize seeking to add the bustle of traditional college towns.
A $74 million building next to Rowan Universityopened this month, the latest and largest addition to a years-long project to connect the growing university with the modest downtown of Glassboro; and a development of retailers and student housing is opening next to The College of New Jersey in Ewing that could become a sort of downtown for a suburb that doesn’t have one now.
Both universities, once state teachers colleges, have been evolving into more prestigious places, and school officials hope the projects change the nature of their communities, too.
Alyssa Hart graduated from Rowan in May. Now, on top of preparing for graduate school at the university to become a counselor, she is an intern in the newest building on Rowan Boulevard. The Brick native said Rowan Boulevard grew up during her four undergraduate years. Its presence, she said, kept more students in town on weekends and made those who remained less likely to venture into Philadelphia for fun on weekends, thus fostering a “more homey” university feeling.
“I just really like the idea of Rowan Boulevard,” she said.
The edges of campuses nationwide have been booming over the past decade, largely with developments mixing student housing with other uses, including restaurants and stores geared toward both students and others. Some of them help alleviate the longstanding town-gown tensions over noisy parties, taxes and other issues.
The less common feature of the two New Jersey developments is that they’re the main element making the towns with colleges feel more like college towns.
It may take some time before either is exactly the vibrant, funky, student-dominated places like the downtowns in Iowa City near the University of Iowa or Athens near theUniversity of Georgia.
At TCNJ, recognized as a top public liberal arts school, the first students are moving into the $120 million Campus Town development this month. The complex of buildings includes apartments for nearly 450 students — with more to come in a second phase of development — along with a book store. A yogurt shop, tavern and other businesses are to open soon.
In Glassboro, Rowan Boulevard is an even bigger development that’s been going up for years. The total price tag is expected to be $350 million. The school, now a state research university, has expanded from 9,000 students less than a decade ago to 16,000 now and has plans to keep growing.
This month, students and some non-students are moving into apartments in the biggest building in the development. It has student apartments, market-rate apartments, a medical office and retail space. Part of the financing for the $74 million building, known by its address, 220 Rowan Boulevard, is coming from up to $22.5 million in state business tax credits.
Glassboro Mayor Leo McCabe said the city government in the blue-collar town of about 20,000 is on board with Rowan’s expansion and more college-related growth. Decades ago, McCabe said, “We just didn’t pay attention to each other.”
But he said the local government, which owns the land for the project and leases it to developers, benefits from the university’s expansion.
Previously, the single-family homes on the land generated $70,000 per year in property taxes. The buildings that replace them now contribute about $1.4 million a year in payments in lieu of taxes to the town.
Rowan President Ali Houshmand, who joined McCabe for an interview, said a benefit of having part of the building boom off campus is that it means developers take the financial risk rather than the university.
“We’re not very good at building and managing buildings,” Houshmand said. “We are good at educating.”
The excitement on campus does not mean everyone is enthusiastic.
Marcello Mazzitelli, who for 15 years has owned Little Sicily Pizza and Wings across the street from what’s now Rowan Boulevard, said that moving into the new center would not make sense for him because the students go home for the summer.
“Four months,” he said, “nobody.”