Rowan University and Glassboro Grow Together
In the 1970s and 1980s, Philadelphia’s suburban expansion brought commercial development to the regional highways and residential subdivisions to the farm fields near the borough of Glassboro, New Jersey. That growth, however, bypassed Glassboro’s downtown, the area surrounding the intersection of Main and High streets. Nor did the downtown benefit in any significant way from the presence of the 7,000 students attending Glassboro State College, located only one-half mile away. A decade of curricular and building expansion at the school began after 1992, when Henry and Betty Rowan donated $100 million to the college, which at that time was the largest donation to a public college in the nation. With a name change in honor of the school’s benefactors, Rowan University’s growth, however, had not bridged the distant town-gown relationship by 2000, when Glassboro’s merchants began meeting with government officials to discuss downtown revitalization. In the mid-2000s, as Rowan University began a decade of growth during which its student population doubled to approximately 18,000, the school decided that further expansion should take place off campus even though its campus contained developable land. A new era of trust between the university and the borough began as plans for redevelopment took shape. In 2004, the city bought 90 properties between downtown and the campus, and the 26 acres were rezoned as a redevelopment district.
The Rowan Boulevard Redevelopment Project
The $425 million Rowan Boulevard Redevelopment Project broke ground in 2008, and the eponymous street, one-third of a mile long, was built between U.S. Route 332 on the edge of Rowan University and Main Street, one block away from the heart of downtown Glassboro. By 2010, the first buildings of the redevelopment were completed. Rowan Boulevard Apartments, a pair of 4-story buildings that frame 2 courtyards, houses 884 students. Nearby, with frontage on Rowan Boulevard, the Barnes & Noble Collegiate Superstore, complete with a Starbucks café, opened in the same year. The project’s first mixed-use building, the Whitney Center, opened in 2011 at the northern end of Rowan Boulevard. The residential units provide 280 student beds in the center’s 4 stories above 20,000 square feet of retail uses and restaurants on the ground floor. In 2013, the first new hotel to be built in Glassboro in generations, a 129-room Courtyard by Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, opened across the street from the Whitney Center.
Also in 2013, Nexus Properties of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, which would develop the remaining buildings in the Rowan Boulevard Redevelopment Project, completed the five-story Enterprise Center between the Marriott Hotel and the Barnes & Noble. The building’s 9,600 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor enlivens Rowan Boulevard. Occupying 52,000 square feet in the center’s 4 upper stories are the classrooms, lecture halls, and offices of the university’s Division of Global Learning and Partnerships, which manages graduate education, professional development, and online programs. A 1,194-space parking garage was constructed behind the center. Across Rowan Boulevard from the Enterprise Center, 220 Rowan Boulevard opened in 2015. The 6-story, 316,000-square-foot building provides street-level space for Inspira Urgent Care, the Cooper Bone and Joint Institute, and a branch of South Jersey Federal Credit Union as well as space for shopping and dining. Housing for 456 students and 57 luxury apartments, designed to attract millennials and empty-nesters, occupy the building’s upper stories.
Terminating the southern vista of Rowan Boulevard is the development’s primary public space, located at the intersection of High and Main streets. The Town Square, owned and maintained by the borough, opened in 2016. The 1.75-acre park includes a large lawn, a plaza with a permeable surface, and a memorial for veterans. Amenities include perimeter landscaping with native plants, a fire pit, pavilions, and a statue honoring the borough’s role in South Jersey’s once-flourishing glass industry. Fairs, festivals, concerts, and other public events activate the park throughout the year.
The two final development phases, referred to as A3 and A4, were completed in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Each phase occupies a block bordering the Town Square, and together they complete the frontages along Rowan Boulevard. A3 includes a 4-story, 70,000-square-foot building with 37 luxury apartments over commercial space at the western edge of the Town Square. Another building, fronting High Street, includes 14,000 square feet of commercial space and 144 student beds. The largest building in this phase has frontage on Rowan Boulevard and Victoria Street, which runs perpendicular to the boulevard and connects a residential neighborhood on the west side with Main Street to the east. This building accommodates 413 student beds and 32,600 square feet of commercial space, including a fitness center; the building also contains 7 classrooms and office space for the University’s Writing Arts and Communication Studies programs. All these buildings line the perimeter of a block whose center is occupied by a 934-space parking garage. A4, north of the Town Square, includes a 4-story building facing the Town Square with ground-floor retail space and 20 luxury apartments. Completing the frontage on the boulevard and extending along Victoria Street is another mixed-use structure with 11,690 square feet of commercial space at street level and 468 student beds in the upper 5 stories. The other building on the block is a 4-story building facing Main Street with beds for 138 students.
Rowan Boulevard Redevelopment Project: Land Use Mix
|Luxury apartments, market-rate||92 units|
|Luxury apartments, affordable||22 units|
|Student housing||2,783 beds|
|Academic||73,000 square feet|
|Commercial, general||127,300 square feet|
|Medical||28,000 square feet|
|Fitness center||17,000 square feet|
|Conference center||4,000 square feet|
Financing for the Rowan Boulevard Redevelopment Project
Glassboro purchased the Rowan Boulevard redevelopment site, a neighborhood noted for its substandard buildings and high crime rates, without using eminent domain. Instead, the site was purchased from the property owners using $30 million in borough-issued redevelopment bonds and $70 million in state tax incentives. Glassboro owns the site and rents parcels to the project’s developers, which assembled financing packages for the project’s buildings. The financing sources of the $425 million redevelopment were largely private, with some public support. State assistance included a $5 million loan from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and $22 million in tax credits from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. In addition, Glassboro regulations allowed the borough to exempt the new buildings from property taxes; in exchange, the borough entered into payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements with the project developers to annually pay a portion of the exempted taxes. Because of the PILOT agreements, Glassboro has had only one minor increase in the tax rate for borough property owners in the past five years, according to Glassboro administrator Ed Malandro. Rowan University was critical to the redevelopment’s financing by guaranteeing to rent the project’s student housing and academic spaces, which enabled the developers to secure debt financing.
Revitalization Beyond Rowan Boulevard
Rowan University has supported Glassboro’s downtown revitalization through several projects near the Rowan Boulevard Redevelopment Project. In 2015, Rowan opened the Rowan University Art Gallery and the Center for Art and Social Engagement in a 15,000-square-foot building at the redevelopment’s western edge on High Street. On its campus at the northern end of the boulevard, the university contracted with a private developer to construct Holly Pointe Commons. Completed in 2016, the residence hall provides 1,415 beds. At the intersection of Main and High streets, Rowan has renovated the historic Camden Bank building, which now houses office space for the dean of the Edelman College of Communication and Creative Arts; Department of Journalism staff; and the student newspaper, The Whit. Nexus expects to complete Poplar Square in October 2020; the 4-story building, which features 144 market-rate and 11 affordable apartments, is located one block south of the Rowan Boulevard Redevelopment. Nexus is considering other developments in Glassboro, but no specific concepts or designs have been made. Glassboro continues to promote an arts and entertainment district along High Street, although the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily suspended planning efforts. According to Malandro, the community is deeply involved in a process led by PennPraxis to develop a vision of what future growth in Glassboro should look like.