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When Christopher J. Paladino takes a walk through downtown New Brunswick, he sees the past, the present, and, he hopes, the future. As president of the New Brunswick Development Corporation, the nonprofit better known as Devco, Paladino RC’82, CLAW’85 is in charge of guiding the redevelopment of a city that once seemed destined to be another flat-lining urban center, a casualty of deindustrialization and white flight, its employers and businesses consumed by metastasizing suburbia. Since he took the job in 1994, Paladino has initiated and overseen $1.2 billion in projects, the most recent being a pair of complementary developments bracketing the New Brunswick train station that blend residential, retail, and institutional space. This year will see the launch of Devco’s most ambitious effort yet, a three-phase project that will transform the university’s College Avenue Campus.
Devco’s works are everywhere: a new Middlesex County administration building; a cluster of new or rehabilitated court and public safety centers; Rockoff Hall, a student apartment tower at George and New streets, which brought fresh life to an area once notable chiefly for drug dealing in the nearby cemetery; The Heldrich, a conference center right across Livingston Avenue from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy; the refurbished State Theatre, George Street Playhouse, and Crossroads Theatre; The Gateway, which houses residential units, university offices, and the Barnes & Noble at Rutgers college bookstore; and Wellness Plaza, which offers a menu of fitness and health services, as well as the Fresh Grocer, a top-quality supermarket in the center of New Brunswick’s downtown.
This blend of high-density residential and retail development is meant to attract young professionals and people sick of suburban sprawl, Paladino explains. “People don’t want to live out in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “A lot of them like the idea of living in an urban center, of being able to get around without having to live in their cars.” If enough of those people can be drawn to New Brunswick, he says, they will be followed by more and better retail, along with more and bigger employers. In short, the city will achieve what Paladino calls “critical mass.”