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TCNJ's $120M Campus Town makes official debut
Cristina Rojas
As seen on NJ.com

Sprinkled among the politicians and community members getting their first glimpse of The College of New Jersey's $120 million Campus Town on Wednesday were students and parents preparing for move-in day. With tape measures in hand, they were sizing up their apartments and figuring out where they would put everything.

Seniors Emily Lane and Katie Moore, both 21, said they didn't want to take their chances with the housing lottery and opted to trade dorm living for apartment life.

"I really like it," Lane said. "It's a lot better than what we had."

"It's part of the community, it's part of the college, but it's a stepping stone to when they're on their own," she said after measuring the windows for curtains.

The mixed-use project has been seven years in the making. Work is still continuing on the ground-floor retailers, but students will begin moving into the 446 one-, two- and four-bedroom apartments on Sunday.

Another two residential buildings with 166 beds will open next summer as part of the second phase of construction.

On Wednesday, the public got a taste of what they could expect from the retailers with giveaways and free food samples, while inside, they marveled over the luxury apartment living.

The apartments feature a spacious living room and kitchen, private bathrooms, plush furniture and washers and dryers.

But most notable is the fact that the project is 100 percent privately financed, meaning that no tuition or taxpayer dollars were used to build it.

With a shortage of on-campus housing and money tight, the New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act of 2009 gave the college the authority to bypass public bidding laws and enter into a partnership with The PRC Group.

"I can tell you with absolute certainty that this project would not have been possible had it not been for our ability to partner with a private developer," TCNJ President R. Barbara Gitenstein said.

She described Campus Town as an inviting space for the college community and residents alike.

"It provides (students) the opportunity to live independently study and prepare themselves to enter their profession and community as leaders and still be very close to the academic and social life of the campus proper," Gitenstein said.

Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann said the project helps bridge the gap between the college and larger Ewing community and would encourage more residents to explore the campus and vice versa.

"It's about community and it's about The College of New Jersey and Ewing Township sharing those experiences hand-in-hand," he said.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who was serving as acting governor, said projects like Campus Town would encourage more and more kids to stay in state for college.

"Today, you're giving students a better chance to live in a community, yes, but you're also giving students a better chance to receive an education here in New Jersey," she said.

Guadagno pointed out that TCNJ has invested in new facilities like classrooms and laboratories, but unless the college has enough housing for its students, it will not make much of a difference.

"Today is all about making sure our children stay in New Jersey, making sure that when we create seats, they have a place to stay," she said.

Junior Leah DeGraw, 20, said when she came in as a freshman, she heard that upperclassmen often had a hard time getting on-campus housing.

"I thought I was going to have to live off campus, which was kind of concerning," she said.

But with the addition of Campus Town, she is now a short walk away to her classes and job — at RedBerry Frozen Yogurt, one of the retailers.

Barnes & Noble opened earlier this month. RedBerry is slated to open next month, followed by Piccolo Pronto, Spencer Savings Bank and Mexican Mariachi.

Art Havier, owner of RedBerry, said he followed the project from the beginning and was one of the first retailers to begin negotiations with PRC.

To cater to students, he added a smoothie bar and will open earlier and close later — midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.

"We're going to take care of these kids," he said.

Piccolo Pronto, a sister restaurant to nearby Piccolo Trattoria, is expected to open in October. Amali Elabed, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Fami, said Pronto is a fast-casual concept offering build-your-own pizzas, pastas, salads and sandwiches. A portion of their proceeds will go to local charities and food banks.

"(Campus Town) is new, it's fun, it's exciting and we're excited to bring this new concept here," Elabed said. "It ties in well. It's going to be a huge hit."

Spencer Savings Bank, which acquired Ewing-based NJM Bank late last year, anticipates opening the first week of October, said John Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of retail banking.

Some bank representatives will be on-site, but the location is departing from the traditional bank branch with interactive ATM-based kiosks, where customers interact with a remote teller via video.

Mexican Mariachi, which is planning for an early to mid-November opening, will serve up fresh, authentic Mexican food at an affordable price, owner Ricardo Ramos said. The family-owned restaurant already has locations on Parkway Avenue in Ewing and Hamilton.

Other retailers will include a standalone Panera Bread, Yummy Sushi, Verizon Wireless, Polished Nails salon, California Tanning and Brickwall Tavern & Dining Room.

The college leased back the ground floor of one of the buildings for a fitness center and campus police substation.

Campus Town also teamed up with Enterprise CarShare to offer a car sharing service to students and faculty as well as the public. Two cars are available for $5 an hour and gas and insurance are included.