A public-private partnership is helping to create a walkable downtown in Glassboro, New Jersey, and, in doing so, tying the town’s culture to that of its university.
Using a 26-acre plot of land owned by the township between Rowan University‘s campus and the town square, Rowan has tasked developer Nexus Properties with the creation of Rowan Boulevard, a multistage, mixed-use community that combines student housing with market-rate apartments and substantial ground-floor retail with academic offices and classrooms.
Across four phases, Rowan Boulevard carries a total price tag of $425M. Its third phase, delivered in September, totals 557 student beds, 37 market-rate apartments, 40K SF of ground-floor retail, 29.5K SF of classrooms, a fitness center and a 900-space parking garage. Not including the garage, this phase — called A3, with a $110M price tag — was split up into three buildings, with two dedicated to student housing and one with the standard apartments.
Before Rowan Boulevard, Rowan students rarely ventured into downtown Glassboro, and single-family houses filled with fraternities and students caused headaches for residents. But rather than fight to keep the school under control, the township embraced it, and that decision has allowed it to benefit from Rowan’s explosive growth.
“The original plan for these 26 acres that the town wanted did not include student housing,” Nexus Properties Vice President of Leasing & Marketing Ronda Abbruzzese said. “The town wanted it all to be market-rate apartments and retail, but as the university grew and evolved, so did the plan … Nexus was the first to say, ‘We need to put student housing here because of the growth of the university.’
“[The second phase] A2 was kind of a test, to see if there was a luxury apartment need in Glassboro,” Abbruzzese said. “We weren’t sure at the time, but now we don’t even know how deep the market is, because I get two or three calls a day for those apartments. People want to be close to the student area.”
In 2015, A2 delivered as one building, 220 Rowan Blvd., with 456 student beds on floors two through five, and 57 market-rate apartments on floors five and six — a nonstandard approach to merging a student population with the greater community.
“I have tenants who’ve moved from the mixed-use [building] to the stand-alone, but there was no issue about living among students. They have their own private elevator,” Abbruzzese said. “We have only had positive comments related to living among students in this environment.”
A part of what attracts non-students to the area, and a huge factor in its walkability, is the 70K SF of retail that has been built, with 18K SF more to come. About half of it is food and beverage, with some medical usage and a 17K SF fitness center, operated by Rowan as an extension of its on-campus facility. There is also a 7K SF office portion in A3 that is all but fully leased to a non-Rowan user, which will be a first for the project.
When Rowan Boulevard broke ground in 2009, Rowan University named Sora Northeast as the master developer. But when it came time to build parking garages, Nexus stepped in as master developer and has been in that role since, even though it had never built multifamily or mixed-use properties before. The Enterprise Center, with Rowan classrooms and offices above ground-floor retail, was Nexus’ first, completed in 2013 in front of the complex’s first garage.
Although Rowan Boulevard has all that retail for everyone in the community to enjoy, plus a new 1.75-acre town square for Glassboro, the university is clearly a dominant presence in the area. Bridging the main campus with the center of Glassboro will have the effect of a walkable downtown, but it also populates that walk with students and faculty, some of whom rent the market-rate apartments.
“My opinion — and I think folks around me, their opinion — is that every day, we’re becoming a quintessential college town,” Abbruzzese said. “Every day, we add another piece to the project and rent it to Rowan, and it means we are becoming a college town.”
In 2018, Nexus will complete the final piece of Rowan Boulevard: the three buildings that will make up A4. Like A3, two will house students (with 604 beds) and a third will contain 20 market-rate apartments. All of it will sit above 18K SF of retail, with the whole of A4 set to cost $75M. By the time it is finished, continuous commercial development will line the walk from Rowan University’s main campus and downtown Glassboro, linking them for good.