NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Driving south on Somerset Street, the city comes to look a bit worn. By the time you pass Louis Street, the downtown's luxury skyscrapers are firmly in the rear view, and the typical college-student housing stock, aged in its own right, thins out.
Instead, as in other parts of this city, you're more likely to find big, multifamily houses—that actually house families, not flocks of students—charming corner stores and neighborhood restaurants and churches. It's a hard-working place where rents are relatively affordable.
Yet this neighborhood isn't far from much of anything, at least as far as New Brunswick landmarks go. And it's not noticeably dangerous. For whatever reason, though, downtown developers have mostly ignored this area.
But that's beginning to change.
Shortly after 11 a.m. today, Aug. 31, 15 Maple St. was buzzing. It was move-in day at a brand-new, 16-unit apartment building owned by Premier Properties, a developer that has built similar projects, along with some bigger ones, throughout the city.
“Just because this is not so close to the campus doesn't mean this neighborhood is not entitled to new, quality, safe housing,” Mitchell Broder, Premier's president, told TAPinto New Brunswick.
As workers hauled furniture into the building's common areas, incoming tenants brought their items into their new homes.
Some were people who already lived nearby, including parishioners of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, which used to own the property. Others settled in New Brunswick as a bedroom community, away from their New York City jobs.
The building houses just two groups of Rutgers University students, Broder said. In the hallway, one of their mothers walked by, helping the young men move in.
“The kids are very excited,” she said. “They have a nicer place than I had.”
Each unit includes stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops, designer light fixtures, ceiling fans in each room, upgraded moldings, solid-wood cabinets with soft-close drawers, closet space and in-room, on-demand water heaters, according to Premier Properties.
Common space, meanwhile, boasts a bike-storage room, a 23-space garage, a gym with a few machines and weights, an outdoor patio area with tables, laundry and garbage on the two residential floors and an elevator.
“The idea is, if you provide a quality product at a fair price, the market will be very receptive to that,” Broder said. “So we do.”
The distance from New Brunswick's hottest area does indeed mean a price break. A two-bedroom apartment, for example, costs about $1,600 a month. Other developers looking to build new structures downtown have posed that same price as a ballpark rate for a one-bedroom unit.
A one-bedroom here, meanwhile, runs $1,300, and a three-bedroom goes for $1,800, Broder said.
Broder and his company have found that “big-bang” development projects aren't the only ones to make money in this city. The Maple Street building was already fully leased by move-in day, he said. He has also constructed similar units in similar locations.
In the end, he said, steps like this one improve New Brunswick in areas that don't typically make headlines, often providing new housing to people who already live there.
“We don't target any one area in New Brunswick,” Broder said. “We're very bullish on the whole city.”