In New Brunswick, one development tackles multiple community needs

The Gateway Transit Village. Photo courtesy of the New Brunswick Development Corporation.
When Smart Growth America’s coalition partner New Jersey Future announced its 2012 Smart Growth Award winners in April, it was no surprise that New Brunswick’s Gateway Transit Village received the award for Transit-Oriented Development Partnership.

The Gateway Transit Village is a new development in downtown New Brunswick that includes parking, retail, office and residential space. Gateway is known as a transit-oriented development because it is located across from a train station, easily connecting the building’s tenants and patrons to transit.

“The Gateway project stood out because it satisfies so many of the requirements for a smart growth project,” says Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future. “Gateway provides direct access to transit for both commuters and students at neighboring Rutgers University, and serves multiple purposes with retail, parking and residential space for both renting and ownership.”

“In this particular case, Gateway was able to accommodate the broadest range of interested parties with differing needs,” Kasabach says. “The project was successful because it took advantage of community partnerships and creative financing to meet these needs.”

The New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco), a nonprofit real estate company, helped get this complex project off the ground. Tasked with revitalizing New Brunswick’s transit corridor, Devco saw a specific under-utilized piece of land directly next to the train station as a key property for redevelopment.

Devco President Christopher Paladino met with Rutgers University President Richard McCormick, inquiring about the site’s potential for an expanded Rutgers bookstore. While they agreed that the site was ideal, Paladino then saw an opportunity for something even greater. “You don’t just build a bookstore at a site like this,” said Paladino. “We wanted a unique urban situation.”

Space next to a transportation hub is top real estate, and various other community groups and organizations also had expressed interest in this property. In addition to Rutgers University, the City of New Brunswick was eager to develop housing and parking options near the transit line to accommodate increased market demands and daily commuters.

Paladino’s task, then, wasn’t easy. It’d be a matter of accommodating multiple stakeholders with only one site, so it was crucial to build it right.

A room in the residential rental portion of the project. Photo courtesy of the New Brunswick Development Corporation.
A creative partnership among Devco, the New Brunswick Parking Authority, Rutgers University, Pennrose Properties, AJD Construction and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority had the answer. The Gateway Transit Village would serve mixed uses and a diverse user-base with an array of retail, housing and parking amenities.

Despite the project’s promise, however, the struggling real estate market posed further hurdles. Funding was needed upfront to kickstart some of the project’s more costly components.

Luckily, Gateway was eligible for New Jersey’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program, a funding program designed to spur private capital investment, business development and employment by providing tax credits for projects near a designated transit hub.

“The Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program served as the foundation of Gateway’s funding. It provided the equity that made various other investment instruments possible,” said Paladino. “The program allowed us to build a quality development that the city deserved.”

In addition to the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program, the $136 million project garnered funds from private equity and conventional financing sources, New Market Tax Credits, a grant from the state Transportation Trust Fund and bond allocations through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“The Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program served as the foundation of Gateway’s funding. It made other investments possible.”

With funding secured through this varied and often creative financing process, the project was poised to move forward. Devco’s plan for Gateway included retail and structured parking at the building’s base, office space immediately above, and rental and ownership spaces in the tower. A groundbreaking ceremony in June 2009 celebrated the project’s commencement.

Along with one of Devco’s sister downtown redevelopment projects, the projects brought 2,000 construction jobs to the community over a two-year span. Likewise, the 300 people living in the building and shopping locally are expected to stimulate the economy, with the bookstore and new retailers also generating new jobs.

“The site is truly the gateway to the Rutgers campus,” Paladino said. “Sitting at the foot of College Avenue, it connects the university, downtown and transit. At a time when new construction across the nation is sluggish, this investment is seen as a general source of pride for our community,” he added.

In late 2011, the $150 million project became a reality. Gateway stands 24 stories tall with 700 new parking spaces and 57,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, including a destination restaurant and the new Rutgers bookstore. Above the retail spaces lies 55,000 square feet of office space. The towers hold 150 rental and 42 condominium residences, 30 of which are designated affordable housing.

Gateway’s benefits to the community are coming to life. A new park-like elevated walkway directly connects the Rutgers campus and the train station, making it much easier for people to commute to school or work. Paladino said the walkway especially benefitted people with disabilities.

“We’re also expecting a Zipcar program and a rather large bike station to be brought in soon,” he said. “There is a whole new level of energy in town.”

“This development is the epitome of smart growth and the future of transit operations, mixed with residential and retail space,” then-Gov. Corzine said in a 2009 Rutgers news article. “More importantly, projects like this are vital to keeping our economy moving in the right direction and providing jobs for our hardworking residents.”

To learn more about DEVCO’s work on the Gateway Transit Village, click here.

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