Downtown businesses squeezed by college’s plan to expand its campus

Photos by Ron Leir/ Business owners Avnish Patel (above) and Greg Cancro (below) are playing the waiting game with their landlord, Bloomfield College.



By Ron Leir


After several years of studying and planning, it appears that Bloomfield College may be on the brink of moving forward with extending its innercity campus into the heart of the township’s Downtown retail area.

But not everybody is greeting this development with open arms.

On March 5, the mayor and Township Council voted to designate the college as the redeveloper of a narrow two-story commercial property at 37-59 Broad St., off Franklin St., which it purchased about three years ago.

According to the resolution, the college “intends to demolish the existing building improvements on the site and seek approvals to develop it with a mixeduse project consisting of ground floor retail along the Broad Street frontage, a ground floor parking area and offices along the Franklin Street frontage, and a five-story residence hall above the ground floor.”

Because the project site lies within the so-called “Phase II plan” of the Bloomfield Center Redevelopment District, development of the college property “is subject to all the requirements of the Redevelopment Law and the Phase II plan, including, but not limited to, the execution of a redevelopment agreement between the Township and Bloomfield College and site plan approval by the Township’s Planning Board.”

College spokeswoman Jill Alexander said the college currently has an agreement with Rutgers University and the University Center in Newark for the placement of international students and Korean teachers learning English in private homes and they are transported to and from classes in Bloomfield.

“We want to bring them back to the Bloomfield campus (to be housed in Bloomfield),” Alexander said.

And the college would like to accomplish that by constructing the proposed 124,000 square foot residence hall, she said. As for the retail ground floor space, Alexander said, the college is planning for “a little less than 8,000 square feet” to be set aside for retail use.

“The Bloomfield Center Alliance (BCA), the college and the township will collaborate to get merchants in that space,” Alexander said.

However, Stuart Koperweis, executive director of the BCA, an advocacy group for the Downtown business community, said last week that the college has yet to consult with the BCA on its plans for the proposed retail space. Those commercial tenants who remain at the Broad St. property continue to wonder whether the college will actually follow through on its plans.

Greg Cancro, manager of Traveler’s Village, Inc., a corporate travel management firm which has been a fixture at the property for four decades, said: “We’ve known of (the college’s) plans for close to five years. Are we happy about it? Of course not. We’d like them not to do it (tear down the building). We have extensive clientele who come from all over. We’re so established here, it would be a shame to lose this location.”

Like most of the other tenants, the travel firm pays its rent to the college on a “month-to-month” basis, Cancro said.

Over the past few years, as many as seven tenants have relocated rather than deal with the uncertainty of their situations. Windows in those spaces are filled with Bloomfield College promotional materials. Cancro said he’s more or less reconciled to the notion that, one day, his business will also have to leave.


Photos by Ron Leir/ Vacated retail space is covered with the college’s promotional materials.

But Avnish Patel, owner and operator of Gallagher Wine & Liquor, the biggest tenant with close to 5,000 square feet of space, is furious about his predicament.

“The college won’t be interested in renting space to a liquor store,” he said.

Patel, who has a yearly lease with the college, said he’s been scouting around for new locations but “we’re up against certain restrictions,” in terms of the territory where he can transfer his alcohol distribution license, available space and proximity to schools and houses of worship.

The liquor store has also been a longtime tenant – 40 years in the same spot – and Patel has been operating the last two decades. “We are the only liquor store in the center of town,” Patel said. “Now the township wants to take away central retail business and give it to a non-profit entity – that’s not right.”

“Why doesn’t the college use any of the ample space it has on its campus?” Patel wondered.

Other tenants still at the property include a deli, nail salon and offices occupied by a realtor and insurance agent.

Township tax records show that for 2011, Bloomfield levied a total of $71,200 in real estate taxes on the three Broad St. lots the property comprises. Much – if not all – of that revenue figures to be eliminated, once the college replaces the existing building with its presumably tax-exempt dormitory.

There is scuttlebutt that some or all of the proposed retail space could be filled by a college bookstore and/ or cafeteria, which could also be considered taxexempt.

When the college will be filing construction plans and site plan application with the Bloomfield Planning Board is anybody’s guess. Alexander didn’t know and Florham Park attorney Glenn Pantel, the college’s legal representative, couldn’t be reached.

Asked how the project would be financed, Alexander said the college would likely apply to a bank for a construction loan. “That’s all in the works,” she said.

“We’re hoping in the next two to three years to occupy (the new facility),” Alexander said.

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