Ferren Deck Mall – Hero or Villain of New Brunswick?

August 4th, 2017

By Julio Mora

Is the Ferren Deck Mall the Hero or Villain of the City of New Brunswick

It was toward the end of May of 2017, that the Ferren Deck Mall was torn down, cleaned out and gated in its entirety. As the current redeveloper, the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), continues to find tenants for the proposed redevelopment plan many feel now the site provides an eyesore to the thousands of passengers that pass through the area on their way to work. However, this is not the first time that Ferren Deck Mall has had difficulties. Initially the mall had opened up in the 1970’s and was expanded in the 1980’s where it became a commercial center for the downtown of New Brunswick and included businesses such as McDonald’s, the official Rutgers Bookstore, PSE&G customer service, and numerous other restaurants.http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/nbpa-hopes-begin-destroying-ferren-parking-deck-summer 

(The following image is the Ferren Deck Mall before it was fenced in)

In the very early days of the Ferren Deck Mall, originally it was one of the City of New Brunswick’s first efforts to accommodate privately owned vehicles and not risk any shortage of parking. In 1972, The project was proposed as a parking garage to assist commuters who needed to park while they went to the city’s train station and courthouse. The development was completed in stages beginning with the 12 million dollar Ferren Mall Parking Deck for convenience to the newly built Johnson and Johnson Headquarters in 1886, as well as the Hyatt Regency (http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/potential-devco-nbpa-deal-redevelop-ferren-deck-means-uncertain-future-paterson-st). Mixed use retail and office space were then added from the Ferren Deck toward Albany Street, along Route 27, as well as another structure known as the Wolfsen parking deck. For about 43 years the majority of the building stood as just that, a symbol of Suburban Sprawl and more importantly how the automobile has influenced planning policy in urban cities.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Ferren Mall involved the method that the City of New Brunswick went through to obtain the land. Before the Ferren Mall, there were many store front businesses, including The Art Cinema, the Cone Zone, New Brunswick Lunch, which faced the New Brunswick Train Station during the 1970s. It was during the period of Urban Renewal that the city decided to use the process of eminent domain to seize these properties, as well as the area noted as the Golden Triangle, which at the time housed the The Rubber Room Rehearsal Studio, the first Ferren deck, and other prime real estates. The owner of the Rubber Room, Ms. Wendy Hughes, was hardly compensated for the land and had this to say about the experience, “I relocated quite a few times, I ended up in a really bad neighborhood, I got broken into a couple times”. The owner of the Elizabeth Beauty Supply Shop, Mr. Don Pellicone, had this to say of the experience, “It ruined us. We opened up again, but it was never the same”. The owner of Jersey Subs, Mr. Jack Blauvelt, stated that he had to hire an aggressive lawyer in order to be compensated a fair price and had this to say, “It was really hard to talk to anyone from the city. Their technique is really rough on people” http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/potential-devco-nbpa-deal-redevelop-ferren-deck-means-uncertain-future-paterson-st

(The following image is the site of the Ferren Mall before its construction

It was not until January 7th of 2013, that the parking decks began to limit the space available to park, in preparation for its complete closure. On March 2nd of 2013, the parking decks were closed except to those with monthly permits during the last few weeks. After June 30th of 2013, Both the Ferren and Wolfsen Decks were closed, however the New Brunswick Parking Authority continued to allow retailers to rent space along the Albany Street Garage, such retailers included New Brunswick Diner, PNC Bank, PSE&G, Geetaz Hair Salon, and B&M Bagel (http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/end-era-ferren-deck-closes-retail-businesses-survive). One of the biggest challenges that the Ferren Mall could not compensate was the retailers vacating the area, which included the Rutgers Bookstore which moved to the newly built Gateway Building on Somerset Street and the McDonalds that used to be within walking distance for several individuals. For the next few years since 2013, the Parking Authority had no immediate plans for the site and in a few years the entire site was fenced in. (Following image is the Ferren Mall fenced in)

This was not the only challenge that the site faced, there was also an issued regarding a chemical spill that spread to the Ferren Mall during the early 1980s. In 2016, After a three way agreement between the non developer that works with the Parking Authority and the County government, DEVCO was put in charge of environmental remediation of the site. Thus, the contractor known as CME Associates was given $291,000 dollars in taxpayer money for clean up of the area. It was not until February 24th of 2016 that the cleanup began, which initiated efforts with ground water sampling. Several proposals for the Ferren Mall Redevelopment were not taken into consideration because of the chemical spillover which was found to be from storage tanks of a previously demolished county jail that spread across the street to the surface lot of the Ferren Mall. The president of DEVCO, Mr. Chris Paladino made the following statement regarding the clean up, “The source of the spill were storage tanks owned by Middlesex County. The county is taking full responsibility not only for the cost of cleanup but the administration and management of the cleanup process”. The years after the Ferren Mall was completely fenced are well known for representing the incompetence of the County Administration, the Parking Authority, and CME Associates, which were reportedly involved in suspicious political action committees including the writing off of the sentencing of the former New Brunswick Mayor, Mr. John Lynch Jr. http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/environmental-cleanup-abandoned-ferren-parking-deck-begins 

(Following image is of the Ferren Mall demolition)

Currently, DEVCO and the Parking Authority have yet to announce an official development plan for the now demolished Ferren Mall site, and currently in the middle of finding “the right developer to work with DEVCO” (http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/tuesday-public-hearing-redevelopment-vacant-ferren-mall-site). However, most of the previous concept plans have shared some common themes including high rise buildings, a parking garage, mixed use retail and office space, and a pedestrian corridor. Earlier this month of July of 2017, it was noted that the Parking Authority plans to issue 3.9 million dollars for two properties of the demolished Ferren Mall site in order to one day build a parking garage. In addition, the Parking Authority also has plans to buy an office building at 75 Paterson street and the former Wells Fargo Drive thru which will cost a total of 3.9 million dollars. Not to mention that DEVCO has claimed to have spent 100,000 dollars in marketing the site for potential tenants, developers, and investors http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/potential-devco-nbpa-deal-redevelop-ferren-deck-means-uncertain-future-paterson-st

In my opinion, an additional parking structure or garage is not what the city needs. Developments such as this will only lead to further reliance on the automobile, as well as more significant barriers to communities in the form of highways, street bridges, large parking lots, and buildings of a single use. Stopping by to smell the roses, will become unappealing, obsolete and an event of the past. One of the many ideas that has been present in many of the previous concept plans for the Ferren Deck, has been the need to divide the superblock and creating a pedestrian walk through as to allow for better connectivity within the surrounding area. In my opinion, this is a very important take away idea that should be implemented because not only would it lead to better connectivity, but if done right it can also provide a focal point for the city where people can walk around, hang out, and relax. The focal point could be without the hesitation of cars, with numerous businesses located in the area, such as a coffee shop, apparel store, restaurants, and any business of this sort, and a landmark, such as a water fountain, oversized chess and checkers game, and numerous tables and chairs. In doing so, the City of New Brunswick could create what it has always failed to do, and is to create a new kind of urban mall, that will attract many individuals,a closer mall for residents. Not resembling a strip mall, nor a mega mall like Menlo Park Mall in Edison, Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge. No longer will the city be only a temporary transit stop to the next destination, but with the open space, attraction, and businesses it can bring individuals into the city instead of driving them out. I think it would also favor residents, for they will now have better shopping destinations and more places to socialize. Instead of having to pay a bus fee to go to the North Brunswick Shopping Center, Menlo Park Mall, or the East Brunswick Mall. An example of what the city could base the development off of, but not entirely, is a tourist attraction in West Palm Beach, Florida known as City Place. In City Place, there are super blocks, where the inside is entirely pedestrian only, the walkways appear almost as streets, but instead of the roads there are benches, palm trees, tables with umbrellas, and other attractions. (The following image is of City Place in West Palm Beach, Florida)

As mentioned early, the main focus of the New Brunswick Parking Authority has been to build another parking structure on the site, most likely to accrue further revenue from the high parking demand. This issue of parking has frustrated many individuals with the lack of nearby parking spaces available to their destination, including the Housing Authority, who had the following to say about the parking in New Brunswick:

 

“We do have a parking challenge and I’m very supportive of this project (90 New Street redevelopment) but I think there needs to be almost a task force because I know a lot of people who don’t come to New Brunswick now with all of our stuff because they can’t park. And so there really is a parking issue and I think we really need to somehow John (Office of Planning Official) or someone, need to have some kind of meeting with the minds of the parking authority because there’s a church here and we will have everything with the arts center and this and that and this is going to be an exciting place. But if people can’t park…”, said by Dale Caldwell, Commissioner of the New Brunswick Housing Authority during the monthly meeting on May 24th of 2017.

Although many are frustrated with the city’s expensive parking meters and lack of available parking, there are others who feel the opposite regarding the issue, such as the Director of the Office of Planning, who had the following to say regarding Dale Caldwell’s parking concern:

“There is a fair amount of parking in New Brunswick. I don’t believe we have a parking shortage. There may not always be a parking space right where people want it because they always want it right next to their ultimate destination. Sometimes you might have to go a couple blocks and sometimes people don’t want to pay the parking with the suburban model of just pulling into park, but as Mr. Kelso was indicating with this project the parking authority has stated that they have excess space in the deck next door to be able to accommodate some of the parking for this project and I think that’s the case for a lot of the decks. You know you go to the church street deck on a friday night there may not be able to find a parking space there, but you go to the malls street deck or the wellness deck there may be some spaces available. The parking authority is taking steps to better communicate the knowledge of where those decks are and the available spaces…” Said Glenn Patterson, the Director of Planning for New Brunswick.

In my opinion, the city of New Brunswick, as well many others cities in New Jersey, need to make other forms of transportation more reliable, comforting, and available instead of trying to add more parking spaces that go unused during most of the day. A wide open space, that is open to the public, has numerous places to meet and gather, hosts events, and is located in the heart of the city is, in my opinion, what the city needs because it will reduce reliance on the automobile, for individuals who find it necessary to drive all the way to Menlo Park Mall in Edison or Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge in order to shop and have a good time. Thus, by lowering the need for cars and increasing the city’s own economic opportunities, the need for parking will diminish. However, this should not be the only concern of the City of New Brunswick, creating a popular new urban mall to act as a focal point would very much improve the condition of the surrounding of the community and its inhabitants, but it is also important to remember that when one part of the city is revitalized, all sections need to be revitalized. In Conclusion, A house is not clean, unless all rooms are satisfied, including the economically disadvantaged individuals living in New Brunswick.