NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Don 't let the enormous "Block R" on the side of the building fool you, the city's first downtown dormitory is not owned by Rutgers. And, according to the Daily Targum's Brianna Provenzano, it may soon change hands.
The current owner, New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco), is looking to sell the 186-unit building, but President Chris Paladino insists the residential portion will remain entirely for college students.
"It will be a seamless transition. And nothing is going to happen for the next nineteen to twenty months," Paladino told NewBrunswickToday.com.
Paladino wouldn't say who Devco was negotiating with to sell the structure his company built seven years ago.
But he did say that it was "someone who has a national reputation in off-campus student housing."
Rutgers officials told the school newspaper that the new owners will likely continue allowing college students to live there, though it's not clear on what terms.
Newly-appointed Vice President of Academic Affairs Richard Edwards told the Targum, "My guess is that the new owners would still be interested in renting to Rutgers students, but [the University] would no longer be involved like they were in the past with running the facilities as an official Rutgers residence hall."
Joan Carbone, the University's longtime Housing Director said that Rutgers would work to ensure smooth transitions for tenants.
"We have a very good relationship with Devco, and Devco is very interested in having students have fair and appropriate things happen to them," said Carbone, in the article published yesterday.
Paladino said his organization was selling off the dormitory in order to focus on new projects closer to the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers. According to Devco's website, they spent $55 million on the building.
Paladino's organization wants to use the proceeds from the building's sale to work on a project to replace the New Brunswick Theological Seminary and a build student housing and a park on the site of parking lot famous for being home to the city's "grease trucks."
"We developed Rockoff Hall, we got it stabilized… and now we want to be able to take our resources and our time and put that into other projects," Paladino said.
In January, NewBrunswickToday.com reported that Devco's most recent residential development to open, The Vue, purposely aimed to keep Rutgers students out with its expensive rents and verification that tenants meet steep income requirements.
Rockoff Hall opened in August 2005 at the corner of George and New Streets. The 186 aparments were considered the best at Rutgers until new luxury dormitories opened on the Livingston campus in Piscataway six weeks ago.
The Star-Ledger described the financial arrangement in an Aug. 4, 2005 article:
Devco will own and maintain the building while Rutgers will provide the students, run programs and provide security within the residence hall .
After 30 years, Devco will have the option of continuing the arrangement, selling the building, converting it into commercial apartments or making other changes, company officials said.
The 261,000 square-foot building sufferred from flooding problems occasionally, and a university gym located on the ground floor failed to open on time and was closed after a short run.
A Daily Targum article from 2005 explained the initial delays:
According to Devco Vice President Sarah Clarke, the nonprofit corporation first quoted the university a price of $200,000, a rough estimate based on industry standards for the cost of the square footage to be developed.
Based on that quote, the university allocated $200,000 toward construction of the project. But it was not until only several months ago that Devco officials say they were informed of the types of materials the university wanted installed.
Clarke said the university requested special ceilings, special floors, and other unique materials for a state-of-the-art fitness center featuring a variety of equipment from weight-lifting machines to water massage tables…
With more precise information on the university's needs, Devco produced a new quote — nearly $500,000, or more than double what the University had originally anticipated.
It was at this point that Karen Kavanagh, executive vice president of academic affairs — who coordinated the discussions with Devco — made the decision to reduce the scope of the project to fit the university's budget.
The nearly $300,000 difference was a shock to university officials, Kavanagh said.
"This kind of caught us by surprise," she said.
"There will always be instances of price jumps," she said. "We build in contingencies for that, but we don't build in a 100 percent contingency."
The gym eventually opened, but it didn't last long. An undated online review of the building on DormSplash.com mentioned the absence of the gym:
"The gym was taken out before we even moved in, which is a big inconvenience, and they should have taken the residents' opinions into consideration before removing it. Nothing has been put in its place, even when we were told that it could be a computer lab."
Two of the retail shops on the ground floor turned over quickly as well, though a 7-11 and Douglass Pizza have been there since the building opened.
In 2008, a Jersey City man who owned a coffee shop at Rockoff was indicted on charges of embezzling over $2.3 million. The shop closed down immediately and was replaced by a short-lived restaurant that sold cereal.
In 2009, a person was injured in a fire that also caused $118,622.73 worth of damage to the building. The fire was ruled "unintentional" by authorities, according to a report issued by the Rutgers Police Department.
The next year, another unintentional blaze caused $100,000 worth of damage, and no one was injured.
The building is a joint venture of Devco and Philadelphia-based Pennrose Properties. It was designed by Hillier Architects, and construction was managed by AJD Construction Company.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.