Kevin Riordan: Hopes build for new development in Glassboro

Dignitaries break ground on Rowan Boulevard's second building and parking garage: (from left) Talley Gradey of Nexus Properties; Rowan dean Horacio A. Sosa; Assemblyman John Burzichelli; State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney; Glassboro administrator Joseph A. Brigandi Jr.; Rowan president Ali Houshmand; Glassboro Mayor Leo J. McCabe; Freeholder Heather Simmons; Assemblywoman Celeste Riley; Glassboro Councilwoman Ingres Simpson; Nexus Parking Systems president Michael Ciesielka; and Nexus Properties chief operating officer Dante Germano.
Dignitaries break ground on Rowan Boulevard's second building and parking garage: (from left) Talley Gradey of Nexus Properties; Rowan dean Horacio A. Sosa; Assemblyman John Burzichelli; State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney; Glassboro administrator Joseph A. Brigandi Jr.; Rowan president Ali Houshmand; Glassboro Mayor Leo J. McCabe; Freeholder Heather Simmons; Assemblywoman Celeste Riley; Glassboro Councilwoman Ingres Simpson; Nexus Parking Systems president Michael Ciesielka; and Nexus Properties chief operating officer Dante Germano.
Posted: September 14, 2012

The pace of development has picked up along Rowan Boulevard, an unassuming road designed to connect the lively Rowan University campus and Glassboro's low-key downtown with the future.

A groundbreaking on the boulevard this week, and another set for October, mark the start of construction on a retail, office, and garage complex, and a combined hotel and conference center.

"We're looking at other residential, retail, restaurant, and educational components" as well, Gloucester County Freeholder Heather Simmons says. Her office is working with the borough, university, and private developers on the $300 million project.

"We want a dense, walkable environment," adds the Glassboro resident, a public relations professional.

Though only a third of a mile long, Rowan Boulevard has an ambitious goal: to become the spine of a vibrant district that will appeal to students from the historically self-contained campus and visitors from outside Glassboro.

Right now, however, a boulevard walk feels like a country stroll. Three handsome new residential complexes house 1,200 students, but tall grass waves in many lots.

The borough acquired and demolished 90 properties on 26 acres near the boulevard, where traffic is sporadic and pedestrians are few.

This isn't Cambridge, or even Collingswood. Not yet.

"We did have a little bit of a lull" in development, says Joseph A. Brigandi Jr., the borough administrator, whom I met with Simmons at the Barnes & Noble Collegiate Superstore.

The busy retailer, which stands at the boulevard's midpoint, has had no neighbors since it opened in 2010. But that's about to change.

Immediately to its north, workers are on the site of the 1,200-space garage and mixed-use project and the adjacent hotel-conference center, which represents $50 million in private investment. The borough hopes to attract a developer to construct stores, restaurants, and apartments on a crucial parcel across the street.

Brigandi, 56, whose father ran a downtown sandwich shop called Joe's, remembers when Glassboro was "a thriving little college town." Then the suburbs boomed, and traditional downtowns like Glassboro's waned.

More recently, the former Glassboro State College has been brightened with striking architecture and lush landscaping. Enrollment has grown - 12,000 students, up from about 9,800 - since businessman Henry Rowan gave his alma mater $100 million in 1992.

Yet a half-mile south, Glassboro's low-rise downtown struggles. Despite a welcome handful of new, arts-related enterprises, the empty storefronts, abandoned gas station, and long-vacant movie theater on High Street hardly draw crowds.

"We do have [more] students coming in, and I think the boulevard has been helpful," says Sam Ramani, who has operated Kennedy's News Agency on the street for 16 years.

Says Lou Di Domenico, manager of the Comic Book Store near the boulevard's intersection with Main Street: "Anything that increases the visibility of the store helps. Barnes & Noble has helped. Most likely, the [new projects] would be a positive for us, too."

Rowan president Ali Houshmand notes that as a tenant - the university's College of Graduate and Continuing Education will lease space in the mixed-use structure - Rowan has helped make the projects feasible.

"The future of Rowan, and the borough, depends very much on this collaboration," Houshmand says.


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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