Reviving Glassboro, a town linked with growing university

Retail and business space (left) on Rowan Boulevard, the roadway linking the 200-acre campus with the downtown, and new housing on Bulldog Way.
Retail and business space (left) on Rowan Boulevard, the roadway linking the 200-acre campus with the downtown, and new housing on Bulldog Way. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 14, 2013

One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.

Yet again, Glassboro is getting its groove back. It's an era of re-reinvention for the Gloucester County borough - once known for the manufacture of its namesake product, then as the sleepy town that hosted a 1960s Cold War summit - as it links itself to the growing reputation of Rowan University.

This time, Glassboro is a college town with a difference, as both municipal and university officials are quick to emphasize.

The best example is the newest and shiniest example of town-gown cooperation: Rowan Boulevard, a brand-new thoroughfare linking the 200-acre campus with Glassboro's reviving downtown.

"Rowan Boulevard is not a university project but a partnership of public and private development," says Jose Cardona, interim vice president for university relations. "Rowan leases space in the buildings but doesn't own them, so they remain on the borough's tax rolls."

In a community where the median tax on a single-family home was $5,900 in 2011, increasing ratables is a good thing - especially the $1.2 million in new annual levies that will result on the project's completion.

Rowan Boulevard is sprouting from 26 acres on which 90 properties - some student rentals, others single-family homes, and many abandoned - once stood. It is, at $300 million, New Jersey's largest municipal redevelopment project, says Gloucester County Freeholder Heather Simmons, a Glassboro resident who is the liaison for economic development.

"Those 90 properties were acquired through bonds, not eminent domain," Simmons says, adding that the effort will serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of adjacent neighborhoods of a community once predominately populated by Italian American glassmakers like her husband's family.

"We live in his family's house in downtown Glassboro," she says. "We always have and always will."

Glassboro's forward movement already is propelling property values as well.

"I've been selling real estate in the borough for many years," says Marilyn Snyder, an agent with Weichert Realtors' Washington Township office, "but I've never had as many buyers asking me about Glassboro as I've had in the last two years."

Among them are young professionals, staff, and faculty of Rowan, which provides a 10-year, $1,500 annual incentive to employees who buy in the borough and "young people who grew up here who want to stay here," Snyder says.

Ninety employees are still taking advantage of that incentive, says Cardona, adding that Rowan wants faculty and staff "to live and work and get involved in the community."

He notes, for example, that Glassboro High School is across the street from one of Rowan's freshman dormitories, and that high school students involved in two academy programs - performing arts and science and technology - attend class with their college counterparts.

Unlike many postindustrial towns, Glassboro saw shopping centers and other retail, including supermarkets, pop up within its borders, retaining business that would have gone to regional malls and setting the stage for the current revival.

Patricia Settar, of Prudential Fox & Roach's Mullica Hill office, sells mostly around the university area and considers what is going on today "exciting."

"The value of older homes is more affordable, but the taxes are a bit higher," Settar says. "These homes do require some work, but overall young professionals are finding living here convenient."

Snyder says Glassboro offers a "nice mix" of housing types, ranging from small condos for $100,000 each to singles for just under $300,000, and everything in between.

New construction is well represented - not only the multigenerational housing above retail spaces on Rowan Boulevard, but 51 townhouses on adjacent South Poplar Street that will be deed-restricted to owner-occupiers, Simmons says.

Impressed by Glassboro's revitalization efforts and its proximity to Route 55 and Shore traffic, in 2011 Beazer Homes opened Richwood Crossing, a mix of townhouses starting at $189,990 and singles at $236,990 at Ellis Mill and Richwood Aura Roads.

In less than two years, 73 townhouses and 40 singles have been sold, "mostly to 'hometown heroes' - doctors, nurses and other professionals," says Gary Rhoadarmer, Beazer's regional marketing manager.

Although Simmons, Cardona, and others acknowledge that the university and the town led parallel existences for many years, "things took a 180-degree turn in 1997, when we started conversations about the future of Glassboro," Cardona says.

The progress made so far, especially on Rowan Boulevard, "must be seen to be understood," he says.

Simmons' concern is that the borough will be able to keep up with Rowan's growth, especially since it joined Rutgers as one of New Jersey's two state research universities over the summer, which will enhance the school's profile nationally.

Efforts thus far, including the opening of a Marriott Courtyard Hotel, a mixed-use building, and a parking garage on Rowan Boulevard, have added 135 jobs to Glassboro, with "hundreds more to come," she says.

The list of what's going on these days in Glassboro, and what's in the offing, is an extensive one. The results of more than a decade of "Rowan and Glassboro entwined," as Simmons put it, is all around for everyone to see.

"And this is only the beginning," Cardona says with confidence.

215-854-2472 @alheavens

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