More student housing near Cooper Medical School in works

Posted: June 08, 2014

A $16 million project to build student housing across from Cooper Medical School of Rowan University is moving along with plans to open in time for school year beginning in fall 2015.

The 56 units to be built or renovated at Broadway and Washington Street would serve 105 Rowan students and occupy six lots directly across from the medical school.

The school, which opened in 2012, has grown from an incoming class of 50 students to 114 students. It will grow to 416 students by 2020.

Currently, half of the students live in Camden, said the medical school's dean, Paul Katz. Most of them rent in the Victor Lofts, about a mile from the hospital.

"One of the prime motivators for us was not just accessible student housing but continuing to revitalize Camden so that whole block, currently unoccupied, will now serve a purpose," he said.

Most of the properties are owned by Cooper University Hospital and will be sold to Philadelphia developer Iron Stone Strategic Capital Partners, which will operate the apartments. One property (436-438 Broadway) is privately owned and will also be purchased by the developer, according to a resolution from the Rowan board of trustees meeting in February.

Under Iron Stone's agreement with Rowan, passed at a board of trustees meeting in April, the school will guarantee 95 percent occupancy or cover the difference in rent.

The arrangement is similar to one at the Rowan Boulevard Apartments on the Glassboro campus, Rowan University spokesman Joseph Cardona said. "We're guaranteeing them there's going to be this kind of occupancy and guaranteeing them a certain amount of money. It helps the builder because now they have commitment from the university, and it helps us because it's providing needed housing."

Katz said he would be surprised if the university had to supplement rent costs as the school anticipates a high demand for the housing.

Five buildings will be renovated, and two lots will have new construction. Commercial and retail space would occupy the middle of the block and the corner.

Andrew Eisenstein, managing partner of Iron Stone, said plans include incorporating a police substation and commercial food space into the block of student housing.

Iron Stone built similar student housing for Philadelphia University in East Falls and manages properties that house students around La Salle University in Philadelphia's Logan neighborhood.

Eisenstein made a presentation Thursday night to Camden City Council, which will vote on whether to give the project a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes. The firm already qualified for a 20-year tax abatement through the state Economic Opportunity Act. Eisenstein said the deal would cover years 20 to 31, as required by their lenders to finance the development.

In Camden, more than 52 percent of city properties are tax-exempt, and taxpayers provide just $24 million toward the $181 million budget.

Eisenstein said he looked into the same project five years ago but the incentives weren't available and the partnerships weren't arranged.

"The medical school wasn't built and the timing just wasn't perfect," he said.

If the city approves the 10-year tax deal, the group would seek final planning approvals and permits before beginning construction this summer.

Rent for a one-bedroom unit would be $900 a month; a two-bedroom unit would rent for $1,500.

The project comes one year after the city's redevelopment agency took properties off the market to sell to the Cooper Health System.

Additional plans in the area include the opening of KIPP Cooper Norcross School, to be built in Lanning Square, and construction of a building to house Rutgers nursing school and some science facilities across from City Hall. Ground was broken on that project last year.

Rowan also recently acquired the block directly west of the medical school, Katz said, though there are no immediate plans for the area. A board resolution in February approved $2 million for "acquisition and relocation associated with" the block.

"There's going to come a time when there will be less available property," Katz said. "We need to secure it right now with the understanding we're going to want to expand and grow."


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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