“This is one of the most exciting things that’s happening in New Brunswick, at least this week,” said President of the New Brunswick Development Corporation, Christopher Paladino.
Paladino is talking about what’s going to be the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. It’s a 435,000 square foot facility that represents an investment of about $175 million. It will be home to the George Street Playhouse, Crossroads Theater, American Repertory Ballet and provide performance space for Rutgers University’s Mason Gross school.
“As we go up the building there’s several floors of office space and then 207 apartments with really great amenities. It’s going to be both market rate and affordable. And what we’re hoping to do with the affordable component of this is attract artists of all genres to work and live here,” Paladino said.
Paladino also shows a giant hole in the ground in the middle of the city, directly across the street from the New Brunswick train station where the Ferren Mall Parking Deck used to be, which will be the site of a new mixed-use development called “The Hub.”
“We’re now tearing down things that were built after I left college, which makes me feel old. But in the 80s, it was actually standard operating procedure to build a big parking garage in your downtown, across from a train station, hoping the suburbians would run across in the morning, and in the afternoon you have some activity,” Paladino said. “Having five acres of a parking garage didn’t make sense any longer because it really is the prime redevelopment site in the city. We’ve been approved, we have a redevelopment plan for 2 million square feet on this five acres, so if we start underground, we have 800 cars of underground parking, commercial, research, retail and residential spaces. I think probably 500 or 600 people will live here. We are hoping 2,000 or 3,000 people will work here.”
At the New Brunswick Rutgers University campus, Devco redeveloped the school’s Honors College with the help of state tax incentives and education bonds.
“It certainly isn’t my Rutgers. We really took this as an opportunity to really re-center Rutgers undergraduate, academic and residential life in New Brunswick where it started,” Paladino said. “This is actually where Alexander Hamilton gave covering fire to George Washington as he retreated across the Raritan River during the revolutionary war. We acquired this property and then went through a master planning process with the University that not only included this property but also what was the former grease truck lot on College Avenue. We rebuilt a new seminary, so the seminary got its first new building in about 100 years. And then we master planned a classroom building, a residential Honors College and then a residential building with a park and retail space at the Yard down the street. Universities have to grow and they have to modernize and this took Rutgers way farther down the road to where they’d been.”
So how did New Brunswick get on this road to revitalization anyway? Paladino says the credit goes to the leadership at Johnson & Johnson, which is headquartered in the city.
“We probably wouldn’t be having this conversation today but for a 1973, men who had all worked for Gen. Johnson, decided to make the decision to stay here. Companies were fleeing New Jersey cities to the suburbs and they made a commitment to stay. So they put together a process where the New Brunswick Development Corporation was actually founded. They put together process that included the university, the city and the hospitals and J&J. So they really were the tipping point that sent us in the right direction,” he said.
And that direction is forever forward. Paladino has a saying — “A city is never finished.”
“Look, in a city, if you are not opening a project, building a project, financing another one, trying to sort the details of another project and then dreaming about the next, you’re going to lose momentum. And when cities lose momentum, they don’t just stay stagnant, they fall backwards,” Paladino said.