A small private college and an Essex County town that once competed for local resources are working together to revive the town’s historic center. Bloomfield College has constructed a new residence hall in downtown Bloomfield, breathing life into an area plagued with abandoned buildings and low-end retail shops, while the town itself is moving forward on major redevelopment projects.
“The ultimate goal is the resurgence of Bloomfield as a destination,” says Glenn Domenick, the town’s director of community development.
At the corner of Broad and Franklin streets, the college completed the $27 million state-of-the-art residence hall last summer on property donated by a local resident. The four-story building includes three levels of suite-style dorm rooms for more than 230 upperclassmen and amenities such as a fitness center, computer lab and game room. Students moved in last fall, doubling the college’s on-campus population.
“The old assumption that residential students have a better chance of succeeding still seems to be the case,” says Marion Terenzio, the college’s vice president for academic affairs. Success, she says, is measured by student retention, graduation rate and level of engagement. “Students who are more engaged are going to do better,” she says.
Founded in 1868, Bloomfield College is a liberal arts school with a diverse population of about 2,000 undergraduates, mostly New Jersey residents who commute to the 11-acre campus in the heart of Bloomfield. The college offers more than 60 majors—business, nursing and creative arts are among the most popular—and a graduate program in accounting.
The town helped the college plan for the new residence hall, but the two entities were often at odds in the past. Local residents complained that the college, a nonprofit that does not pay property taxes, was a drain on resources, including parking spaces and municipal services. The relationship began to change when Bloomfield public school officials approached college representatives about a basketball program for local kids. Since then, the college and the town have worked together to create an alternative high school on the college campus. Education majors have the opportunity to work with students at the school, all of whom are special-needs kids. “It’s transforming,” says Terenzio. “It’s brilliant.” The college also houses an early-learning program for the township.
“It’s the greatest growth stage [for the college] that I have seen and the most symbiotic relationship with the township,” says Domenick.
By no means is Bloomfield rebranding itself as a college town, and low-end retailers, such as dollar stores and nail salons, still operate adjacent to the new residence hall. However, the additional consumers residing downtown and the retail space in the residence hall should boost the town’s tax base.
Barnes & Noble, which ran an on-campus bookstore for four years before moving into the new residence hall, is the first retail tenant. The store’s clientele includes students as well as locals looking to grab the latest bestseller or a cup of coffee.
“The store is building a bridge to the community,” says Patrick Maloney, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Barnes & Noble College.
In addition to redeveloping Bloomfield’s historic downtown, town officials have entered into a public/private partnership with an entity known as Bloomfield Center Urban Renewal to develop a large triangular block south of Bloomfield Avenue and adjacent to the NJ Transit station (which has direct service to Manhattan). The project, dubbed Glenwood Village, includes more than 220 one-, two- and three-bedroom rental units; 60,000 square feet of retail space; and an existing parking deck owned by the town. It is slated for completion this spring. In total, the town has seven redevelopment projects underway, plus two in the planning stages.
“Once we had one or two projects, we exploded,” says Domenick.
Bloomfield College is also on a roll. There are plans to break ground for a new creative arts technology building next month and to convert a former nursing home the college recently purchased into another new residence hall. “There are greater things to come,” says Terenzio.
Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia agrees. “The more Bloomfield College can grow and prosper,” he says, “the more it benefits Bloomfield as a whole.”