A rendering of The Hub, a planned 1.7 million-square-foot research, business and retail campus in downtown New Brunswick by the New Brunswick Development Corp. — All images courtesy: Devco/Elkus Manfredi Architects
By Joshua Burd
The first piece of a long-awaited research, business and retail campus in downtown New Brunswick is slated to break ground next summer after securing commitments from four of the state’s largest institutions in health care and higher education.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday that Princeton University, Rutgers University, Hackensack Meridian Health and RWJBarnabas Health will be the first tenants of The Hub, a planned 1.7 million-square-foot project by the New Brunswick Development Corp. The four anchors will occupy parts of a 10-story, 210,000-square-foot building at the site, located at Albany and Spring streets, as part of a plan to support entrepreneurs, innovation and startup incubation in New Jersey.
“This project is a major step in helping New Jersey reclaim its spot at the top of the innovation economy,” Murphy said. “With its three core partners and first institutional tenant, The Hub will allow us to harness the collective experience of two of the country’s most prestigious research universities and two of its largest health care systems, which will serve to revolutionize research and development in our state.”
Located steps from New Brunswick’s train station, The Hub will redevelop the former site of a hulking, concrete parking deck in the heart of the downtown. The not-for-profit New Brunswick Development Corp., or Devco, has been laying the groundwork for the four-acre project for several years, prompting Murphy to identify the site as a focal point for growing sectors such as health care, higher education and technology.
On Thursday, the governor and other stakeholders detailed facilities that would aim to nurture startup companies and new technologies in a range of industries, including a membership-based Innovation Center for researchers and entrepreneurs. Plans also call for “core partner space” for Rutgers, the two hospital systems and Devco that would provide them with direct access to Innovation Center members, along with leasable corporate space.
Chris Paladino, Devco’s president, said the initial project will be anything but a typical office building.
“This is a real innovation center, and you’re not just providing somebody with guest space, studio space or lab space,” he said. “Now you need to curate it — you want the right mix of companies, not just people with great ideas, but people who are in true startup mode, who are in acceleration mode.”
As Murphy noted, the Innovation Center will comprise 95,000 square feet that will be available for a variety of membership packages for researchers, entrepreneurs, startup companies and others seeking a collaborative setting. The facility will also include ground-floor makers’ space, second-floor event space, a lobby café and connections to an on-site fitness center.
The second major component, the core partner space, will span 55,000 square feet and provide dedicated homes for Rutgers, RWJBarnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health and Devco. The remaining 60,000 square feet will span three stories and will be available for separate leases by corporate or institutional tenants, with Princeton set to serve as the first such occupier.
The site, owned by the city of New Brunswick and managed by Devco, figures to benefit from its proximity to existing corporate, medical and academic research anchors in the downtown.
Stakeholders also expect the state Economic Development Authority to drive activity at The Hub, which they hope to debut by early 2024.
“At a time when society is facing multiple interwoven challenges to our health and economic well-being, support for innovation is essential for bringing creative and diverse minds together to forge solutions and build opportunity,” said Rodney D. Priestley, Princeton University’s vice dean for innovation and a professor of chemical and biological engineering. “Through our role as the Hub’s first institutional tenant, Princeton University will help transform our region into a vibrant center of innovation with a firm commitment to ensuring inclusive participation.
In addition, plans call for participation by established companies from such industries as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, life sciences, advanced technologies, telecom, artificial intelligence, financial technology and many others, Murphy said. The partners will provide important support for entrepreneurs and startups, he added, while contributing to the ecosystem by participating in sponsored events, programming and a mentorship network and by using studio space to spur collaboration with member companies.
Paladino said the success of the initial 10-story building will likely attract other users, noting that Devco is in discussions with several tech, biotech and pharmaceutical users “who are interested in the overall development and actually being involved in the next phases of buildings.”
“This is the kind of component that really does then attract the real corporate world,” Paladino said, noting that plans for The Hub also envision retail and entertainment components, housing and public spaces.
Thursday’s announcement came with a host of praise and promise from stakeholders:
Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health
“Hackensack Meridian Health is proud to join the proposed New Jersey Innovation and Technology Hub in New Brunswick as a core partner, a venture that will no doubt support breakthroughs in science and technology to benefit all New Jersey residents. This partnership will provide a new model of collaboration between government, academia and health care and add greatly to the state’s rich legacy of innovation.’’
Barry H. Ostrowsky, CEO and president of RWJBarnabas Health
“RWJBarnabas Health strongly supports The Hub as it reflects our longstanding commitment to innovation through our partnership with Rutgers University, Middlesex County and the city of New Brunswick. Today’s announcement is an expansion of our collective efforts to bring science and technology together to advance innovation, create new jobs and strengthen our economy in one of New Jersey’s most vibrant cities.”
Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway
“The Hub is about leveraging the shared commitment of Rutgers and the other partners to help New Jersey regain its position as an innovation powerhouse — regionally, nationally and globally. It will serve as a powerful engine to speed the translation of research and take discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace.”
New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill
“The Hub firmly establishes New Brunswick as the epicenter of innovation, technology, research and business incubation and will position New Brunswick as a leader in meeting the future demands in these fields that impact so much that affects everyday life. We are grateful for the vision and efforts of Governor Murphy, the state of New Jersey and the core partners for making The Hub a reality.”
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin
“By promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, we will see more job-creating, start-up businesses created in our state. The $175 million investment in The Hub will be a boon for New Brunswick and the entire state of New Jersey.”
U.S. Representative Frank Pallone
“Today’s announcement is exciting news for New Jersey. The New Jersey Technology and Innovation Hub will bolster New Jersey’s reputation as a leader in innovation and emerging technologies. The Hub will bring together our state’s leading research institutions, health care companies, and technology firms to solve some of our country’s most pressing problems. As chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, I see firsthand just how important this level of collaboration is to our country’s leadership and economic growth. I’m proud that my district will lead the way in the growth of new technologies and collaboration that will foster economic development and innovation right here in New Jersey for years to come. I would like to thank everyone who is working hard to make this vision a reality and look forward to its opening.”
Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders Director Ronald G. Rios
“Middlesex County is actively building its economic eco-system by attracting established and emerging businesses, industry professionals and investors, ultimately fostering a community of innovation. The creation of the Hub not only aligns with that strategy, but contributes to the growth of this eco-system, with the strength of our industry partners like Rutgers University, Hackensack Meridian Health, RWJBarnabas Health, NJEDA, DEVCO and Princeton University, bringing unprecedented prosperity and limitless opportunities to our county’s seat. We commend and thank Governor Phil Murphy and the state of New Jersey, along with our partners, for their efforts in driving this project forward.”
Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan
“The Hub represents Governor Murphy’s commitment to supporting young, innovative companies as part of a strategy for driving equitable long-term growth. This collaboration between our partners in the academic and private sectors will help to prepare our workforce to take on challenging innovation sector career opportunities.”
Kevin B. Duncan, president of the Middlesex County Building and Construction Council
“The Middlesex County Building & Construction Trades Council salutes the efforts and leadership of the Governor, Devco, Mayor Cahill, Middlesex County and all the partners committed to this project. The Hub will not only serve as a gateway to unlimited economic development opportunities for years to come; but will ensure that the best trained men and women of all of our unions will be the ones building this critical structure.”