NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the future of collaborative spaces, such as the massive one planned for downtown New Brunswick, the president of DEVCO said Tuesday.
Chris Paladino said the virus that has resulted in almost 14,000 confirmed deaths in the Garden State will likely impact the design of projects such as The Hub, a mixed-use space where academic, medical and corporate partners will intersect on a 1.7 million square foot tract across from the New Brunswick train station.
Since The Hub was originally conceived, the need for social distancing and safe work environments has overtaken the desire for cool chairs and flashing lighting, and the ability to anticipate the ebb and flow of workers has become a must.
“There, since the economic model was built on putting as many people in a small space as possible, we're rethinking some of that,” Paladino said. “But from a design standpoint, a lot of it has to do with the design of furniture. It's kind of being able to design the space so that we can ease back into this.
“Collaborative spaces we think have a really great future because people could have always been in startup companies and work from home. That didn’t work. They want to be in a place where there's maker space, they want to be able to have access to lab space, they want to be able to have an electronic microscope and they don't want to have to buy it.”
Paladino made the comments during a roundtable webinar hosted by Choose New Jersey, a Newark-based nonprofit whose stated mission is to stimulate job creation and attract capital investment to New Jersey. The program, “COVID-19’s Impact on the New Jersey Real Estate Market,” address a wide-range of topics on Tuesday, from trends in commercial renting to affects of COVID-19 on the college student housing market in New Brunswick.
Paladino indicated that the pandemic which slammed New Jersey in March and April will force developers to think outside the box – and outside the building.
Whether it’s at The Hub or otherwise, he said outside spaces could one day be the setting for board meetings and corporate training sessions.
“That's the one place where people do feel safe and people are starting to get used to it,” he said. “So how can we create meeting spaces that are maybe something you can use nine months, 10 months a year with radiant floors, heat, fans, those kind of things. So, we are going through some design changes and kind of creating a number of additional outdoor spaces that are more than a place to have lunch.”
In the meantime, Paladino said that the Heldrich Hotel – which is managed by DEVCO – has become a popular spot for business clientele with cabin fever.
“We have had individuals and companies say, ‘I have to get out of my house. Can I rent a hotel room for several days a week or a conference room in the hotel?’ You are starting to see people become a little itchy and looking to do innovative things,” he said.
When asked about the New Brunswick housing market, Paladino said fraternity houses and off-campus apartments are filling up even though Rutgers will utilize remote instruction for the vast majority of its fall classes.
He said that the students will continue to prop up the local economies, including dining.
In fact, Paladino praised the outdoor dining program instituted by Mayor Jim Cahill. The city is closing off several portions of George Street and allowing restaurants to put their tables smack dab in the socially distant center of the road.
“The one bright light that I have seen come out of this entire mess from a business standpoint is that every restaurateur that I have spoken to in New Brunswick has said this is the best summer that they have ever had,” Paladino said. “People don’t usually come to New Brunswick in the summer to have dinner, but with people not traveling far, this has been a unique result of a relatively trying situation.”