TCNJ adding 'Campus Town,' with shops and more housing

The college teamed with a developer on "Campus Town," combining student housing and retail.
The college teamed with a developer on "Campus Town," combining student housing and retail. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 03, 2014

As a small public college that targets top high school students, the College of New Jersey prides itself on high retention and graduation rates and regular recognition as a top economic value for families.

What the suburban campus outside Trenton hasn't been able to brag about: A particular sense of place.

"One of the things that we've often heard from our students and graduates is there's no real here here," said Curt Heuring, vice president of administration. "There's nothing to do, so people have a tendency to go home on weekends, or go to Route 1, or go to the malls in Pennsylvania, that kind of thing."

By next fall, however, the college in Ewing Township will offer "Campus Town," full of student housing, shops, and restaurants.

"We want it to be a vibrant community. We want this to bring life to the whole area," said Greg Lentine, who directs the project for the developer PRC Group.

Other colleges and universities also are experimenting with diversifying campus offerings. Rowan University in Glassboro has teamed with private developers to create Rowan Boulevard, which mixes first-floor retail and restaurants with student housing above.

"We don't necessarily want to be in the housing business," Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona said.

To enhance its "living-learning environment," the College of New Jersey brought in the PRC Group of Monmouth County to develop a housing and retail complex on 12 acres leased from the college. Campus Town is scheduled to open next fall, next to the main campus entrance.

Stores and restaurants will occupy the first floors of the eight main Campus Town buildings, with 446 students housed in one-, two-, and four-bedroom apartments on the floors above. As at Rowan, a campus bookstore, Barnes & Noble, will anchor the project. The college fitness center will move into an 11,500-square-foot space.

An Italian restaurant will move in from down the road and be joined by a frozen-yogurt shop and a sushi eatery. Space designated for a sports bar has not yet been leased. Additional storefronts will include a hair salon, tanning salon, and nail salon.

About half the retail space has been contracted, said Lentine, director of university campus development for the PRC Group.

"We're being very particular on the retailers that we take," he said. "It's got to be right for Campus Town; it's got to be right for the school; it's got to be right for the community."

Stores have to appeal to the rest of the Ewing community, Lentine and Heuring said, because of the seasonal nature of the college.

"People go away, and these stores and restaurants have to keep going," he said.

Of the college's 6,500 undergraduate students, about 3,800 live in campus housing. Enrollment is stable, and the campus is built out, so many of the remaining students seek housing in surrounding neighborhoods. During the school year, students make up more than 15 percent of Ewing's population.

"It gets a little dicey, to be honest with you. Unfortunately, the lifestyle of those students is a little bit different from the lifestyle of the average resident," said Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann. Students often party and have "a good time at night. We have cracked down significantly on that, and the college has been more than cooperative."

The 446 beds in Campus Town will shift students onto the campus, with restaurants and stores to keep them there.

"In general, I think the preference of the community is to get the students closer to campus," Heuring said.

In the first three weeks applicants were accepted, more than 300 students applied to live next year in the furnished apartments.

The project began with the college's recognition, in a 2008 campus strategic plan, that the school should develop the campus area more. The state passed a law in 2009 encouraging so-called public-private partnerships, which the college jumped on, becoming the second such project in the state.

The college will lease land to the PRC Group for 50 years. The rent starts at $400,000 and increases by $25,000 each year. PRC also agreed to a nearly $400,000 voluntary annual payment to the township, Lentine said.

Arranged that way, the college helps shape the project but is not responsible for financing or managing it.

"We did this because we didn't have the resources to build necessary housing, so if this turns out to be successful housing, that's a win," Heuring said. "If this helps us improve our town-gown relationships . . . that would be a success."

The school approved the project in 2010, but negotiations took about three years - plans for a parking garage were scuttled, the number of beds was increased, the fitness center grew, the bookstore shrank - and final documents were signed in the spring.

The bookstore and gym will open next summer, and the apartments will be ready for students to move in next fall. Retail spaces should be ready about that time, depending on individual stores' setup.

Eunice Lee, who has lived across the street from the school since 1985, said she supported the project overall - "I understand very well they need more space" - but has some concerns about noise, traffic patterns, and parking.

Lee, 76, who has lived in the area since 1968, said she was used to having students rent houses off campus.

"Once they get in, I give them a week, two weeks, then I talk to them" about trash and recycling collection and noise, she said. "After I talk to them, then that problem just goes away."

Lee said she would take the same approach with the new project: talk directly to any offenders but otherwise learn to adapt. Plus, she looks forward to using the bookstore and restaurants.

"I may have some gripes," she said, "but, you know, let's just say if my kid was going here, I would maybe like it if more kids could stay on campus."


BY THE NUMBERS

Some of the elements that will have gone into the Campus Town project (eight main buildings, one maintenance building, and one clock tower) by the time it opens next fall:

728 Windows

674 Wall panels

2,122 Pieces of steel

334,063 Man-hours (projected)

400 Toilets

SOURCE: PRC Group


jlai@phillynews.com

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