GOING YARD: At Rutgers, the transformation of the College Avenue Campus is coming into focus
When Rutgers opened its football season on the road against the University of Washington earlier this month, it marked the start of a new era at the College Avenue Campus.
An era that has nothing to do with the university's football team or its new head coach.
When the game kicked off in Seattle at 2 p.m. Eastern time, approximately 1,500 people gathered to watch on an outdoor big screen at The Yard @ College Avenue, a mixed-use residential project which officially opened just days before.
The crowd had the chance to look at the soon-to-be opened Jersey-known eateries that will surround a 25,000-square-foot central green space, including Jersey Mike’s, Surf Taco and Krispy Pizza.
They also learned of future events at the space — from yoga in the mornings to movies and music at nights — and saw plenty of chairs and tables that would give students a place to hang out between classes.
The project, spearheaded by the New Brunswick Development Corp. and its public-private partnership model, has been years in the making.
The Yard is just one part of a larger $330 million redevelopment plan for the school’s College Avenue Campus — a redevelopment that saw the opening of an honors college last fall and two new, massive academic buildings this fall — Devco President Chris Paladino said The Yard is positioned to be the cornerstone of the project.
And situated near a busy campus bus stop that serves approximately 8,000 per day, connecting it to a wider system that transports some 80,000 riders daily, the development is in a prime position to attract students from all corners of the sprawling campus.
“This is going to give those kids who use the transportation system a home base,” Paladino said. “A place to wait for the bus and do some homework, or get a piece of pizza or a cup of coffee and make the whole community experience between the three campuses more pleasurable.”
And while many of the people gathered for the game came down from one of the 135 state-of-the-art apartment-style residences that surround The Yard, there were plenty from other nearby housing areas.
And, Paladino noted, it was more than just students. Alumni and residents of the area also were present, achieving another of Devco’s goals for The Yard: making it a destination that can help grow New Brunswick into even more of a traditional college town, where the larger community is integrated with the university community.
“So, today, if you go to The Yard, you might see some people who work at Robert Wood Johnson in scrubs, sitting out having their lunch,” Paladino said. “You might (get) folks from the neighborhood coming by and watching a ballgame at night and maybe grabbing a sandwich.”
Paladino says that growing that relationship between the city and school is “what builds stronger communities.”
A new era indeed.
The Yard’s modern apartments are a far cry from the college dormitories of old.
Simply put, if you’re a Rutgers grad, you never had a chance at anything close to what is being offered here.
The 135 residences in the 14-story building feature one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom layout options. Each features chic interior designs with amenities you’ll find on any HGTV wish list: stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and oversized windows.
The building will soon have a workout room and also features a number of common space areas for students to congregate in that are, again, equipped with large windows offering panoramic views of New Brunswick and even Manhattan on a clear day.
And get this: The cost is no different than any other dorm.
Not surprisingly, Paladino said The Yard quickly became the most sought-after student housing option this past summer, drawing a large number of applicants and interest. It was quickly filled, all by upperclassmen.
Interest, however, is still growing.
By the end of this month, Paladino figures, there will be more intrigue when the project’s ground-floor retail and dining options open their doors to the public.
By then, all of the retail establishments should be open.
For now, students and non-students alike are also eager, peering into storefront windows and utilizing the building’s indoor and outdoor common spaces on a recent day of classes earlier this month.
And they’re welcome to just hang out.
“Rutgers has so few places to sit,” Paladino said. “We’re hopeful that this becomes a place.”
The plan wasn’t just to make The Yard a central meeting place for the College Avenue Campus.
The project aims to connect the campus, too.
The Yard features an open-air walkway from College Avenue to Hamilton Street and the city’s residential fifth and sixth wards, allowing students and area residents to visit The Yard and its offerings.
The space also bookends the area’s other major improvements.
Last year, Devco and Rutgers cut the ribbon on a new, 170,000-square-foot, 530-student residential honors college overlooking the Raritan River on Seminary Place.
And, this fall, in addition to The Yard, Devco and Rutgers opened the university’s first new academic buildings in roughly 50 years, 200,000-square foot facilities equipped with active learning classrooms and cutting-edge technology that expect to have approximately 20,000 students traversing their hallways daily.
Paladino said the significance of the impact the building will have on the campus will “go on for generations.”
“It provides Rutgers with the types of modern teaching spaces that have been lacking on this campus,” he said. “We, as people who are focused on New Brunswick, have always wanted to advocate for Rutgers to continue to invest in New Brunswick because the faculty and the staff, but, most importantly, the students are a very important asset to the New Brunswick story.”
Both the academic building and the residential honors college came about after Devco created a new spot for the more than 200-year-old New Brunswick Theological Seminary, which sat on land that “probably every university president since 1830 has coveted,” Paladino said.
“It was a win-win for everybody,” Paladino said. “The seminary got a brand new, state-of-the-art, modern seminary building, plus we were able to put a significant amount of cash into their endowment. And Rutgers was able to have a home for a high-priority program, that being the residential honors college, and to dramatically increase the quality of educational space on the College Avenue Campus with the new Rutgers academic building.”
It’s hard to create a campus feel where there really wasn’t one. But Devco appears to have done just that.
The idea is to have The Yard become “part of what’s going on,” Paladino said.
Funding for the projects included the securing of $33 million from New Jersey’s now-defunct Urban Transit Hub tax credit program, which helped leverage some $295 million in private-sector financing, and another $55 million from the state’s higher education facilities trust.
“It really is a partnership with Rutgers,” Paladino said.
One in which Paladino, a Rutgers alum, was glad to be a part of — right from the start.
Paladino said that Rutgers brought in Devco to be “in on the ground floor of formulating a plan” for redevelopment, allowing the nonprofit to impart its vision on the process.
“There’s the public and the private,” Paladino said in reference to public-private partnerships. “And we really focus on the partnership side.”
The football team? That’s another issue.
Rutgers fell behind by three touchdowns early in a game that finished as a 48-13 defeat.
The Yard, meanwhile, fared better. Despite the score, few people left early.
“They stuck around,” Paladino said.
Which is a lot easier to do now that they have a place to hang out.