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End of an Era: Ferren Deck Closes, Retail Businesses Survive

New Brunswick Parking Authority Hopes to Fill up Two Recently-Built Decks By Phasing Out Older Garages
Ferren Mall
The Ferren Mall's businesses will remain open, the but the 1,228-space parking garage will close for good on March 2. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For the first time in more than forty years, the Paterson Street entrance to the John A. Ferren parking garage will be permanently closed to the public today as the city's Parking Authority begins to phase out its two oldest parking decks and transfer customers to two new recently-opened garages.

"[On January 7], we closed the daily side and [on January 14] the monthly parkers will be moved to the daily side. The Ferren will ultimately be closed March 2 to monthly parkers," said Mitch Karon, Exective Director of the NBPA.

The other half of the enormous deck, which spans two city blocks, will be only open to those with monthly permits during its final weeks.

Jurors serving in the county court, county employees, and regular commuters are already being directed to park in a garage that recently opened above a new downtown grocery store.  Another established deck near the city's theatre district is scheduled to close on June 30.

Even though both halves of the Ferren garage will be closed in six weeks, the Parking Authority says it will continue to rent retail space on the Albany Street garage to a variety of businesses including the New Brunswick Diner, PNC Bank, PSE&G, Geetaz Hair Salon, and B&M Bagel.

Additionally, New Brunswick CityMarket, a non-profit organization that promotes the city's downtown attractions, and NJTransit also lease small office spaces in the aging mall.

A new 1,275-space garage opened above a new downtown supermarket last November.  Also, a 656-space parking garage opened last year in the city's tallest building, which includes a bookstore, restaurant and bar, office space, apartments, and condominiums.

Garage Capacity Status
Ferren - Daily 643 monthly parkers only today through March 2, 2013
Ferren - Monthly 585 closed for good beginning today
Wolfson 525 scheduled to close on June 30, 2013
Gateway Center 656 opened November 15, 2011
Wellness Plaza 1,275 opened November 9, 2012

The new parking facilities will bring a net gain of 178 spaces to New Brunswick's powerful parking authority.

The Wolfson parking deck, located at Liberty and Neilsen Streets is slated to close permanently at the end of June.  The deck's closure, initially slated for this month, was delayed at the request of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ, one of its biggest customers.

With no immediate plans for redeveloping the sites of the Ferren and Wolfson decks, the Parking Authority hopes the move will mean more customers at their new garages.

On the authority's Facebook page, someone asked what would become of the large sites that have been occupied by structure parking garages for decades.

"What is the Ferren Deck going to be after it's closed permanently?" asked user Gary Pfeffer.

"That information is not yet available. We're exploring our options," responded the authority.

Over the years several plans to replace the Ferren garage have been floated, including a sports arena and corporate headquarters for companies like Blackrock and Roche.  For now, the authority is operating under the assumption the structure won't be demolished any time soon.

Nevertheless, they are working to close down the parking portions of the building, but not the retail uses.  Officials insist that the NBPA's oldest structures are still safe for either use.  Both the Ferren and Wolfson decks will soon be surrounded by concrete barriers and fences, but not demolished until a new use is determined for the property.

Karon says that Bonchon, a chain restaurant known for its Korean barbecued chicken, is moving into a Ferren retail space formerly occupied by Marita's Cantina.  Bonchon's website does not yet make mention of New Brunswick location but lists four locations in Bergen and Hudson Counties, as well as 13 others in the USA and dozens in Asia.

Another space in the building is actively being marketed for retail uses, but the authority is hesitant to reveal who is interested in renting it.

"I have been negotiating a lease for the old McDonald's space. It looks promising but since I am still in negotiation I prefer not to reveal the potential tenant," said Karon of the space at the corner of Albany and Spring Streets.

The Parking Authority increased its monthly and hourly rates on July 1, according to a report on New Brunswick's Patch.com.

The former anchor tenant of the Ferren Mall, the Rutgers University bookstore, relocated to a new NBPA-owned project in August.  That space currently remains vacant.