Transit-centered developments in Central Jersey are usually positioned to attract locals who commute to work in New York or North Jersey, but a $1 billion mixed-use project, The Hub@New Brunswick Station, aims to be the antithesis of that.
That’s according to Chris Paladino, president of New Brunswick Development Corp., which is managing the project on land owned by the city of New Brunswick.
“We’re developing The Hub as part of a self-contained ecosystem, “Palladino said. “And we recognize the fact that the train runs both ways – to New Brunswick as well as away from it.”
Indeed, one of the project’s e-brochures notes that its “proximity to mass transit makes it easily accessible by the best and the brightest of today’s workforce.”
Centered on the former Ferren Mall Parking Deck on Paterson Street – across the street from the New Brunswick train station with a planned skywalk to bridge the gap – The Hub will encompass 1.7 million square feet on 4 acres, with flexible build-to-suit capabilities.
Because it’s in an Urban Enterprise Zone, companies that build in the location may be eligible for an exemption from sales tax on construction materials and may qualify for other city and state incentives.
Sometimes you can have it both ways.
According to Devco President Chris Paladino, most transit-centered development is designed for residents who want to access rail or other transportation modes as a way to make their job commute a bit easier. While the Hub@New Brunswick Station targets that market — the projects plans for extensive corporate development, instead of just retail — it also aims to attract people who will live elsewhere and use the train to come to New Brunswick for work.
On the other hand, some of Devco’s other local projects target an out-flowing market. Those include the Gateway Transit Village, which was completed in 2011. Comprising 632,000 square feet on a 1.2 acre parcel, Gateway rises 23 stories on a block that’s adjacent to the New Brunswick train station.
The project brings “renewed life to an underutilized site in the city’s core with active sidewalks, new luxury residences and a focus on diverse activities at the entrance to Rutgers campus,” according to Devco, serving as a gateway to both downtown New Brunswick and the Rutgers main campus.”
In an effort to maintain a pedestrian friendly environment, the residential tower was developed over a lower-level retail “podium” that Devco said offers easy proximity to downtown amenities, while providing direct and convenient access to mass transit.
A bit further out, but still walkable from the train station, is the mixed-use Heldrich Hotel & Conference Center. Completed in 2007, the Heldrich features 248 guestrooms, 40,000 square feet of executive conference space, 48 luxury condominiums, and street level retail space.
The mixed-use facility — occupying 1.8 acres in the heart of the city’s cultural district, is also home to The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, the nation’s first university-based institute devoted to transforming the complex system of workforce development at the local, state, and federal levels.
The Aspire, a luxury high-rise built by Boraie Development, “steps away from the New Brunswick train station,” started leasing in 2015 with 238 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments targeting “high-end lifestyle” residents with features like a 24-hour doorman, gourmet kitchens with custom cabinetry, quartz countertops, glass tile backsplash, stainless-steel appliances and in-home washers and dryers.
The Aspire has features that millennials demanded, including a luxury lounge area with a catering kitchen, pool table, multiple flat screen TVs, an extended outdoor terrace with seating, and a fitness center.
“The Hub’s location also offers direct access to Rutgers University, one of the nation’s premier public research universities, a highly educated, skilled workforce, and mass transit options,” said Paladino. “This mixed-use project will be a hotbed for innovation.”
Unique project for unique city
He added that The Hub is different than many other transit-centered developments in the state because of the unique nature of New Brunswick, which hosts employer powerhouses like Rutgers University and Johnson & Johnson, and leading medical facilities.
Paladino’s plan is to attract more pharmaceutical companies, in addition to bio-technology and other “innovative” businesses to the Hub, which is designed to offer a live-work-play environment that may attract inbound rail commuters from other parts of New Jersey,or from New York.
So while other developers highlight the upscale amenities in their transit-hub developments, targeting young couples and empty nesters, Paladino doesn’t stress those details.
“We are planning on a residential component that should attract a range of residents, including singles, young couples, people with a family, and empty-nesters,” he noted.
But then Paladino added that artist renderings posted on The Hub’s web site, which show residential units above planned a first-floor retail component on Paterson Street “may be changed as the process moves forward.”
So instead of just serving as living center that people use as a commuting jump-off point, The Hub aims to flip the process and, living up to its name, hopes to become a hub that uses mass transit as an incoming feeder.
Part of a concept
Much of the project is in an early, pre-construction stage, though demolition and preliminary site remediation work have been completed.
But The Hub is more than just a redevelopment project aimed at spurring more activity in the city. It’s also part of a concept of what New Brunswick can be, and it fits in with other activities that Devco and other developers have previously done.
“About eight years ago we sat down with the city to do a downtown visioning exercise,” said Paladino. “As a result, we identified where developments like the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center [a $172 million 450,000-square-foot theater complex with a residential component that broke ground late last year], The Gateway Transit Village [a mixed-use redevelopment project adjacent to the New Brunswick Train Station and across from the main campus of Rutgers University] and others would have the most impact.”
He added: “I’ve been fortunate to work with Mayor James Cahill — who wants the city to continue to develop and who provides continuity [Cahill has served continuously as mayor since 1991] — and people like Glenn Patterson [the city’s director of Planning, Community and Economic Development]. This isn’t the first rodeo for New Brunswick, and these people and others in the city government have a high level of expertise. They also have a lot of ideas, and it’s been a pleasure sitting and speaking with them, along with City Council. Everyone here has contributed valuable ideas.”
Paladino saw The Hub as part of an “arc of progress” that was built in part on the projects that his firm and others have already done. But Devco didn’t come up with The Hub concept by throwing darts at a wall.
“We worked closely with the city to examine a variety of templates, and considered the importance of the mixed-use component,” Paladino said. “We also discussed the value of offering a site that could serve as biotech or other company’s headquarters, and integrating other components like significant retail, housing, parking and public places as part of the overall concept.”
Devco also spoke with Gov. Phil Murphy after his election, “sharing thoughts about economic development and job creation in New Brunswick with the governor and his team,” he added
“Ultimately, The Hub was designated as major initiative, designed to create more innovation in central New Jersey, which will enhance the region’s economy,” Paladino said.
In March, Murphy formally announced his support for the project and its aim to become a hub of innovation.
“For too long, New Jersey has been left out of the growing national innovation economy,” Murphy said. “By creating a site where high-growth industry can thrive, New Jersey will begin to foster new ideas and take advantage of the once-in-a-generation chance to remake the state as an engine of economic opportunity.”
Then in May, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority Board approved a financial agreement with Devco aimed at spurring The Hub’s development.
Paladino sees a kind of connection between some historical figures and The Hub today.
“I’ve been told that Fred Kilmer [a retail pharmacist and scientist who helped guide Johnson & Johnson beginning in the late 1800s], Thomas Edison and the Johnson brothers used to meet near here and talk about innovation,” he noted. “Now, more than a century later, we’re bringing innovation back to its roots.”