Target, which, along with BJ’s Wholesale Club, is one of the main anchors of the North Brunswick Transit Village, is set to open in October.
The 140,000-square-foot “big box” store is part of the new development at Route 1 and Aaron Road dubbed “Main Street North Brunswick.” The development is being built by Garden Homes Development on the former Johnson & Johnson property in conjunction with a $30 million train station on the Northeast Corridor line. It will include 870,000 square feet of retail stores, 1,875 residential units, 375 hotel rooms, and 195,000 square feet of office space.
Target anchors a transit village project that is one of the few such zones in Middlesex County moving forward with construction. Many municipalities have Transit Village plans on the books, but most are either in the early stages of development or on hold. West Windsor is the site of a planned transit village (which combines high-density housing and retail together on the same piece of property), but nothing has been built, with the developer, InterCap Holdings, last year blaming a sluggish real estate market for the delay.
North Brunswick’s project is emblematic of the changing nature of commerce on Route 1. The site was originally home to Johnson & Johnson’s consumer products division, built in 1955 and expanded in the 1970s and ’80s when the Route 1 corridor went through a pharmaceutical industry business boom. In its heyday, more than 1,000 people worked at the complex. Workers made band-aids and other products there until 2004, when the company shut down the factory and moved band-aid production to Brazil. Offices and labs remained on the site until 2009.
The closure left behind 212 acres of prime real estate sandwiched between a major highway and a Northeast Corridor line just 35 miles from New York, though the site is in the middle of a 14-mile stretch in the line that has no stations. Garden Homes bought the land in 2006, keeping Johnson & Johnson as a tenant for several years. Developers and town leaders agreed on a transit village as the ideal use of the land. The new train station is scheduled to open around 2018.
Transit villages first came in vogue about 15 years ago, when the state department of transportation and NJ Transit launched the Transit Village Initiative program, which encourages municipalities to build shops and homes near mass transit stations. The idea is that such clustered development will allow more affordable housing, shorter commutes, walkable communities with less reliance on cars, and a host of other benefits to counteract the suburban sprawl, traffic jam lifestyle that developed during the last half of the 20th century.
As a remedy for congestion, the Transit Village concept has yet to get off the ground, with many projects still in the planning stages, mired in zoning issues, or going slower than expected. The North Brunswick project is farther along than most, and it’s also the biggest, says Jonathan Friedman, managing partner for Garden Homes.
When finished, Main Street North Brunswick will be five times the size of 20-acre downtown Princeton. “It’s the largest transit village ever undertaken from scratch,” Friedman says.
And that is the key to the relatively smooth path North Brunswick has enjoyed relative to other transit villages. Since the project is starting from empty land, there is no other housing to remove, there are no businesses to relocate, and there is no train station to redesign. “Everything is being designed together,” Friedman says. Further, the entire parcel is privately owned, with no state money involved except for the infrastructure.
Friedman also credited the municipality with being forward-thinking in approving the project. “They wanted to build high density. They understood the problems of sprawl and they wanted to do something about it,” he says.
And with Target and Costco both putting shovels in the ground, along with the first of the housing units planned for later this year, Main Street North Brunswick is closest among all such local projects to becoming a reality. Costco already has a roof over its building and is set to open this spring.
Now, Target has released details about its planned store. The location will include a Starbucks, a Target Pharmacy, and a Target Optical inside the store. The retailer also plans to hire 250 people to staff the new location and plans to hold job fairs in the two months leading up to the opening to fill the positions. Candidates can also apply for jobs at target.com/careers or at kiosks in existing Target stores, the store announced in a press release.
The company said the new store will start a local grant program, contribute to the United Way, and donate food to a Feeding America member or approved agency.
Friedman says the Target opening will be a major milestone for Main Street North Brunswick. “Target will be an integral part of the overall project,” he says.