The parcel in the center of downtown New Brunswick has been empty for years, but if all goes according to plan a brand new, state of the art research and technology facility will occupy the site in a few years. State and city officials broke ground on the $665 million, 550,000-square-foot New Jersey Innovation and Technology Hub on Oct. 14. Rutgers and Princeton universities both plan to use the facility, along with Hackensack Meridian Health and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
“It is ambitious and it is aggressive,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said at the groundbreaking ceremony in New Brunswick. “It is fundamental to how we will deliver knowledge and make discoveries and revolutionize the ways we provide health care and medicine.”
“When like-minded partners come together to support innovation, we will build a stronger New Jersey together,” saidRobert Garrettt, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, in a statement. “In health care, the need for collaboration has never been greater. As we have learned in battling COVID-19, when we combine our extraordinary capabilities, we strengthen our communities.”
“At RWJBarnabas Health, we are incredibly proud to support the efforts of our academic partner, Rutgers University, as it expands its capabilities through this new exciting initiative,” said Barry Ostrowsky, the president and CEO of RWJBarnabas Health. “By broadening its participation in the NJ Innovation & Technology Hub, Rutgers will further galvanize its national leadership position in the areas of research and discovery.”
The site was formerly the Ferren Mall across the street from the New Brunswick Train Station which opened in 1982. It was later abandoned its demolition was completed in 2017.
“You must recognize that the mall was built at a time when the city of New Brunswick was really fortunate-thinking, that if we could get somebody on their way to the train station and get them to buy a cup of coffee or drop off their dry-cleaning or get an ice cream cone, we were doing a good job,” New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill said at the event. “But New Brunswick has transformed and it is now a destination.”
The project would also include an incubator for start-ups, providing workspaces and exposure to both potential investors and mentors from those four institutions. That means open office space, studios and workspaces, wet and dry labs, and conference facilities, as well as an auditorium, cafes, and ground floor market.
“The Hub will be that rare standalone center where clinicians and researchers from across the pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors can have immediate and daily access to academic and industry experts as they fine-tune their advances,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Chris Paladino, head of the New Brunswick Development Corp., the lead developer said completion is slated for early 2025 at the latest. “We are building an extraordinary ecosystem where collaboration, discovery and creative collisions can occur not only in the laboratory but in cafes, outdoor plazas and in an array of innovative social spaces that will be located throughout the project,” Paladino said in a statement. Devco has developed several other projects in the city, including the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.
One of the buildings will be 170,000 square feet and include new medical school facilities for the Rutgers-RWJBarnabas operation, and which would include classrooms, offices and simulation labs.
The larger 410,000-square-foot office building will house the Rutgers Translational Research Facility, which will provide lab space for 80 startups totaling between 700 and 800 researchers. While that could include research directly tied to the medical school, it could range from other sectors such as in engineering, medicine or computer science.
Both the RTRF and the new academic medical building will be components of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences under the auspices of Chancellor Brian Strom. A second component of the larger building is meant for startups and private companies to commercialize their products, and can include those operations that come out of the research facility.
New Brunswick city and business officials, like Paladino, initially considered the site as a contender for Amazon HQ2, but the state ended up backing Newark with $5 billion of corporate tax breaks on top of another $2 billion in subsidies from the city.
“Not every plan happens overnight,” Cahill told NJBIZ. “Things like the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center [were] a 10-year project.”
“This is exactly what it was intended to be – to decommission the Ferren Deck, to demolish it to create the opportunity for people to envision what could happen here, and the plan worked.”