As Ferren Mall Demolition Progresses, City Looks Toward Future

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An artist's rendering of what "The Hub @ New Brunswick Station" could look like. Credits: Devco
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This is the latest story in an ongoing series about the Ferren Mall redevelopment project.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The Ferren Mall and parking deck is in bad shape these days.

Each day, heavy equipment clashes with concrete and rebar as a machine jets water across the development site, smothering wayward dust. From Paterson Street, you can see an excavator jam what is now decades-old junk into trash containers. Thuds, bumps and pounds boom from the property and into some neighboring offices.

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This controlled chaos is the result of the $4 million incremental demolition of the city parking authority’s Ferren Mall, whose remnants stand across Albany Street from the train station and between Spring and Kirkpatrick streets. The parking garage has been around since the 1950s, was expanded in the 1980s and will be gone by April, according to officials.

Although the final design of the redeveloped site is unknown, it is slated to become a transit village that includes restaurants and shops, office and research space and apartments. A development company working on the project told TAPinto New Brunswick that the city could lock down its first commercial tenants within the next year, kick-starting the site’s transformation into what officials proudly call “The Hub @ New Brunswick Station.”

“We hope that we will have completed the redevelopment process, completed demolition and have a tenant who is ready to go through the entitlement process and start construction,” said Chris Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco), which is actively marketing the project to potential commercial tenants on behalf of the city’s parking authority.

That timeline depends on outside factors, he said. The leader is the economy and how potential big-name tenants react to its ups and downs. (“This country is going to have a new President in January,” Paladino noted. “That could be a really good thing for what we’re doing or it could … who knows?)

Then there is concern of contamination. In the early 1980s, an oil tank that served Middlesex County’s administration building spilled across the street from Ferren, polluting the land, Paladino said.

While the site of the leak was cleaned, environmental engineers must scour the Ferren property for any lingering contaminants, Paladino said. They did just that prior to the demolition and found no “significant environmental damage,” he said.

After the structure falls and exposes more land, the site will once again be analyzed. It remains unclear what engineers discover or how the testing results could affect the pace of the redevelopment project.

“We have no evidence that it’s gotten into the water table, but they’re going to evaluate that when we get there,” Paladino said. “What [remediation] usually means is just taking the dirt out.”

The city itself still needs to greenlight the redevelopment plan for the Ferren site. The Planning Board recommended the 68-page document for approval this summer, but the City Council soon tabled it over traffic concerns.

Glenn Patterson, New Brunswick’s director of planning, community and economic development, told TAPinto New Brunswick that he is looking into how he can tweak the existing street grid to accommodate the redeveloped site. While he declined to discuss specifics, Patterson aims to “make more interconnections,” meaning that both pedestrians coming from the train station and motorists will have more options for traveling to and from the site.

“There’s no easy fix to it,” he said.

Several buildings, including the one in which Clydz martini bar operates on Paterson Street, are on the site of the redevelopment plan. Patterson said the city cannot by law use eminent domain to take the properties. It’s unclear what role those buildings will ultimately play in the project, or how long negotiations to purchase the land could take.

An artist's rendering of "The Hub @ New Brunswick Station."

City officials envision “The Hub @ New Brunswick Station” as a pedestrian-first complex, with sidewalks and public spaces large enough to support outdoor cafés and small, kiosk-type restaurants, Paladino said.

High-rise buildings will likely tower over them, dedicating their first two floors to retail shops and eateries, and the rest mostly to office and research space. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 apartments—roughly 40 of them designated affordable—could also take root on the parcel.

In total, the Ferren site could hold up to 1.6 million square feet of office, research, retail and residential space, Paladino said.

What form the layout will take depends on the needs of corporate tenants. The first big signer, especially, will likely lead Devco to determine the exact number of residential units and design of the buildings, Paladino said. He said the size of the property and its proximity to Rutgers University may attract any number of businesses.

“There are not many places where we can build a 30,000-square-foot lab or a 15,000-square-foot Cheesecake Factory or House of Blues,” he said.

The Ferren redevelopment project is but the latest step in New Brunswick’s orchestrated growth around the train station. Devco and the city have already implemented the first two phases, which Paladino said represent $250 million in development: The Gateway, which stands directly next to the station and houses Rutgers’ Barnes and Noble, and the Wellness Plaza, which houses a Key Food market and Robert Wood Johnson’s health center.

Once completed, city planners believe “The Hub @ New Brunswick Station” will serve as a sort of knot to tie the area together.

“All throughout the country, these types of places are replacing the malls of the ‘70s,”
 Paladino said. “The concept is to build a place that has a lot of energy, is very pedestrian-friendly and is a destination.”

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