Rutgers Hillel named a new site for its planned new home, shifting gears on a project launched almost six years ago.
The new location will be on College Avenue, in the heart of the New Brunswick campus, instead of the site on the corner of Bishop Place and George Street.
A former fraternity house on the George St. site was demolished more than three years ago with plans to break ground for the Hillel’s planned new $18 million home a year later. However, the site has remained vacant as fund-raising has stalled in a tough economy.
A land swap with Rutgers University, finalized on April 9 and announced April 17 at the annual Rutgers Hillel Gala in Livingston, could allow Hillel to break ground within months on its new building.
The new location will be at the “epicenter” of a $295 million university redevelopment plan on College Avenue. Hillel is currently located in an aging house at 93 College Ave.
“This will be the premier Jewish student facility in the nation, as Rutgers deserves,” said Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer, during brief remarks about the project before a crowd of more than 300 at the gala.
Christopher J. Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corp., received the Visionary in Partnership Award during the event.
Getraer credited Paladino with “spearheading” a partnership between Hillel, the university, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and the city that gave Hillel the opportunity to create a new home.
In a phone conversation April 18, Getraer said the swap was “financially beneficial” for Hillel, although he declined to elaborate.
Paladino also told NJJN by phone he expects any zoning variances and details to be approved by the city by the end of May. He anticipated that the shovel for the first structure in the redevelopment plan — a new building for the seminary — to be in the ground in June.
He said the “unique private-public partnership” has also brought with it “some unique subsidies and financing” for participants.
“Hillel will really be at the epicenter of the activity,” he said.
He described the various entities involved as pieces of a puzzle, with each being key to solving it. “The New Brunswick Development Corp. just put the pieces together,” he said.
Hillel’s current facility, which it rents from the seminary, is too cramped to accommodate Shabbat dinners and many activities, forcing the organization to rent space elsewhere on campus.
Plans for the new facility include a 400-seat kosher dining hall; prayer space for Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Sephardi communities; as well as a kosher café, Israel resource center, classrooms, and a computer lab. The existing architectural designs will have to be reconfigured because of the larger size and shape of the new College Avenue lot.
The new building will be more centrally located near downtown New Brunswick, between two planned dorms for honors students and near a new arts and sciences building being developed as part of the university’s new Honors Campus.
With a new home stuck in the planning stages for the last six years, Getraer quipped during the dinner, “We have to believe we are in the days of the Messiah.”
“Rutgers needed the land swap for its project so it’s a win-win for us and the university,” said Getraer. “We have a Jewish saying, ‘Gam zeh l’tova,’ ‘This too is for the best.’ Had we not experienced all these delays and had already built our building we would not have been able to take advantage of this great opportunity the College Avenue Redevelopment Project has brought to us.”