Five years ago, construction started on Rowan Boulevard, a street surrounded by shops and student housing adjacent to Rowan University’s Glassboro campus in Gloucester County, N.J.
Now, the project – designed to resemble a downtown corridor, not unlike the Voorhees Town Center – is nearly 50 percent complete, and its backers hope it will pull people to the borough.
“The idea is that it becomes a regional destination” like Collingswood, said Joe Cardona, vice president for Rowan University relations. “A destination for a 15-mile radius.”
In the 1990s, Collingswood officials, in Camden County, worked to attract new investment in their downtown. Several restaurants moved in, paving the way for a busy main street full of eateries, shops and pedestrians to fill them all. Now, other towns looking to stimulate their downtowns look towards Collingswood as a model.”
Open for businessAlthough construction continues on the boulevard, there are already a number of businesses open.
This includes the two anchors for the boulevard; a Courtyard Marriott hotel on the north end and a Barnes and Noble college bookstore on the south. Between them there could eventually be up to 60 stores and restaurants.
Many other businesses that have opened cater strongly to the student population. They include: Domino’s Pizza, 7-11 store, Prime American Burgers and Fries, Green Zebra (cafe), Ry’s @ Rowan (bagels), The Boulevard Salon, YOGO Factory (desserts), Forever Young Emporium (clothing), Sun National Bank and Pizza Hut.
With a vision of street-level businesses, the Boulevard project is building apartment units above the stores. The already completed Whitney Center building houses 278 students, and an apartment complex just off of the boulevard houses 844 students.
The vision for Rowan Boulevard is big and did not happen overnight. Construction of began in 2009 and was purposefully located on a parcel of land that connects the campus and Glassboro’s downtown located along High and Main streets.
As with many older communities Glassboro’s business district has seen better days. University and borough officials are hoping that Rowan Boulevard will encourage students and faculty to venture into downtown Glassboro and revive it. The university and borough are also working to transform High Street into an arts and entertainment district that would draw acts and patrons from around the region.
Connecting the campus and town will be park near the Barnes and Noble that is expected to have concerts in the summer and ice skating in the winter, among other events.
To secure land for the project, Glassboro bought the 90 or so homes that comprised the neighborhood that was mostly rented by students, with about 17 owner-occupied houses. The borough bought the houses via bonds and demolished them, said Heather Simmons, a Gloucester County Freeholder who oversees economic development for the county.
Glassboro and Rowan collaborated with Sora Development to create Rowan Boulevard. The borough, which owns the land, sells plots to other developers, who develop the space and lease storefronts to shops and restaurants and lease the housing and administrative spaces to Rowan.
Rowan needs roomIn 2013 Rowan was elevated to research university status allowing it to create programs for high-demand sectors of the economy. By 2013, Rowan hopes to boost its student enrollment from 14,500 to 25,000.2013 Rowan was elevated to research university status allowing it to create programs for high-demand sectors of the economy. By 2013, Rowan hopes to boost its student enrollment from 14,500 to 25,000.
Some of that explosive growth will come at Rowan’s South Jersey Technology Park, a 600 acre campus next to Route 55 and Route 322. The expanse of land currently hosts just one technology research building, the rest of the land covered by fruit crops. Rowan plans to build more buildings on the land to transform the area into a research hub. They also plan to move their athletic facilities there.
If Rowan’s strategic direction is right then Glassboro and the county could also be winners.
“I foresee that in 25 years the economy in Glassboro will shift towards health and high-tech research,” Simmons, the Gloucester County freehold, said.