Governor Phil Murphy has thrown his support behind the creation of an “innovation hub” on a 12-acre complex near the New Brunswick train station, calling for houses, shops, and research facilities all intended to bring high tech jobs and research to the state.

The idea is still in early planning stages and it has been so for a while. At a meeting on March 19 with leaders from New Brunswick, Rutgers University, labor unions, and area businesses, Murphy said the project would be a partnership between the university, private companies, and the state government. Plans for the Hub, part of a “transit village” area of development around the train station, go back to 2014.

The goal of the transit village is to allow residents to live, shop, and work getting to their destinations on foot or with nearby public transportation, eliminating the need for a car. The city has approved 4 million square feet of high rise development for the area.

The site is currently owned by DevCo, New Brunswick’s nonprofit redevelopment corporation. On Thursday, April 5, Christopher Paladino, the president of DevCo, will speak at a meeting of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Princeton Marriott. Tickets are $75, $50 for members. For more information, visit www.princetonchamber.org or call 609-924-1776.

DevCo has been building transit-oriented development downtown for years. In 2012 it completed Gateway Transit Village, a 632,000-square-foot tower with 192 apartments, stores including a Barnes & Noble, office space, and a parking garage.

“Innovation” has been a key part of Murphy’s economic agenda, with the buzzword appearing five times in the budget address he gave on March 13.

“For too long New Jersey has been left out of the growing national innovation economy,” Murphy said in a March 19 prepared statement. “By creating a site where high-growth industry can thrive, New Jersey will begin to foster new ideas and take advantage of the once-in-a-generation chance to remake the state as an engine of economic opportunity.”

In a brochure for the Hub project, DevCo says the complex will include 90,000 square feet of retail space including shops and restaurants, and will be connected to the train station and Robert Wood Johnson Fitness & Wellness Center by pedestrian footbridges. Currently the largest employers in New Brunswick’s downtown are RWJ and Rutgers. The project is being marketed by JLL, a New York-based firm.

DevCo has already begun work on the site. In March, 2017, it demolished the Ferren Mall parking deck, which used to stand on the property. Murphy said the New Jersey Economic Development Authority will take the lead on a study of the project, identifying partners for the Hub. During his election campaign, Murphy said the authority needed to change its strategy for bringing business to the state, moving away from providing tax incentives to companies. Earlier this year he named Tim Sullivan as CEO of the authority, replacing Melissa Orsen.

“Governor Murphy has made reestablishing New Jersey’s preeminence in the innovation economy the centerpiece of his vision for a stronger and fairer economy, and today’s convening is a major step in bringing that vision to life,” Sullivan said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with partners in the private, public and academic sectors to make the most of this uniquely-positioned site with extraordinary potential for major job creation.”

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, a Democrat whose district is in Mercer County, came out in support of the hub. “As chairman of the new Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, I’m thrilled to see Gov. Murphy putting this strong focus on building New Jersey’s economic future,” he said. “I’m also very excited about this opportunity for Middlesex County and the New Brunswick region. If we’re to grow a stronger economy, we need to bring science and technology jobs to New Jersey, and I look forward to combining the committee’s work with the Murphy administration’s efforts to make that goal a reality.”

DevCo has at least one other major project in the pipeline besides the innovation hub. The 23-story New Brunswick Performing Arts center is further along, having broken ground in 2017. The building is a multipurpose building that includes two theaters, the relocated George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theater companies, rehearsal spaces, a bar, 207 apartments, 30,000 square feet of office space, and a parking garage.

The innovation hub will likely be a collaboration of multiple partners, much like the performing arts center, which is a public-private partnership between the city of New Brunswick, Rutgers, Middlesex County, the EDA, the New Brunswick Cultural Center, Penn­rose Properties, the New Brunswick Parking Authority, and 11 other groups.

Devco has been building projects like this since the mid-1970s, spending more than $2 billion over the years in an attempt to revitalize the economic fortunes of the city.

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