Residence Life develops plaza for Livingston
Livingston campus may have found its way into the spotlight after years of hiding in the shadows of other campuses.
With the construction of a three-screen movie theater, a diner and up to 10 retail stores, the Livingston Plaza has the potential to become an attractive destination for students come fall semester.
“Beyond making a mix-use environment, we wanted to create a retail plaza that provides a special experience,” said Michael Pelardis, senior project administrator for University Housing.
In addition to creating a retail experience on Livingston campus, Pelardis hopes the new Livingston Plaza will create a sense of community and gathering for students. An open area in front of the retailers will feature a small amphitheater, patio tables and chairs, he said.
“There is a perception of Livingston being the remote campus and the not-popular campus,” he said. “But I hope it causes more people to come to the campus … to spend time on the campus, to enjoy the campus and use the services.”
Other possibilities being explored include a fresh grocer, a technology support store, a frozen yogurt vendor, a Starbucks, a Mexican restaurant, an Asian restaurant, an art gallery and a nail salon.
“We are still under the phase of identifying all of the retailers. It’s a long process because we have to make sure that it is the right fit and that we are looking at vendors that we know students are going to be interested in,” said Henry Velez, executive director of Business and Administration Services for Housing and Residence Life.
Pelardis has been researching possible retailers and vendors for the past six months, Velez said.
Students, faculty and alumni can attend screenings at the movie theater seven days a week, Velez said.
“Our hope is first-run movies at a discounted price,” Velez said.
A third-party company would manage the University-owned theater, which will most likely offer tickets and concession snacks at a discounted price.
“It is essentially, any movie that is out this weekend, you can play on the theater at Livingston campus,” Pelardis said.
Classes would have access to the movie theater Monday through Thursday until around 4 p.m., Velez said. Around 5 or 6 p.m., it would open as a regular movie theater.
Movie times would begin earlier on Fridays and on weekends, they would play throughout the day, Velez said.
“Our goal is to have midnight shows, as well,” Pelardis said.
University Dining Services will manage the plaza’s diner, a definite addition to Livingston Plaza.
Pelardis hopes construction for the diner and the movie theater will be finished by the fall, but additional retail stores could continue to be built through the spring.
“The primary focus right now is to complete the residential portion,” Pelardis said.
A fresh grocery store is included among the eight to 10 vendors to accompany the movie theater and diner.
The “boutique grocery market” will most likely offer fresh fruit and vegetables and pre-packaged foods, Velez said.
Though a third-party management system would be hired to run the store, the University is encouraging vendors to hire students, Pelardis said.
“I think all of these retailers see this as a good opportunity because we have student workers from the University,” Velez said. “They are usually the ones who can give us good feedback, if things are going well, if we need to make some adjustments.”
Pelardis has also explored the option of a centralized delivery service that would allow students from any New Brunswick campus to place orders for Livingston Plaza vendors’ items.
“It is going to be very important for students who do not have vehicles that can’t get to the campus after hours or on weekends. It will be a win-win for students and retail tenants,” Pelardis said.
Pelardis is also exploring the possibility of having an Apple-authorized technology store in the Plaza. The store would feature Apple products along with non-Apple items.
“We didn’t want to bring in vendors that would cannibalize each other,” Pelardis said. While planning possible vendors for the Plaza, Pelardis wanted to stay away from similar vendors that already exist in the Livingston Student Center.
“For instance, there is a Sbarro in the Livingston Student Center. We didn’t want to put a pizzeria [in the Plaza.] There is also a Dunkin’ Donuts. Though we are going to have a coffeehouse, it will be a completely different concept,” Velez said.
However, some vendors in the Livingston Student Center — including The Rock Café — feel that the new vendors in the Plaza will detrimentally affect their business.
Doris Kennedy, manager of Livingston Student Center’s Dining Services, has already seen a decrease in student customers because of the addition of Sbarro and predicts fewer students after the construction of other restaurants in the Plaza.
“I think this summer, we are trying to come up with items that will be satisfactory [to more students]” Kennedy said.
Dining Services will conduct taste-testing for more sandwiches, vegetarian options and fusion cuisine over the summer to be implemented in the fall.
During the plaza’s early planning stages, Pelardis initially compiled more than 130 businesses for probable tenants for the Plaza.
“In terms of determining the exact business we wanted, we spoke to other shareholders in the University that were tightly connected to the students. We spoke to the vice president of Student Affairs,” Pelardis said.
The University also hired a company two years ago to survey student preferences for vendors, he said. In addition, informal focus groups were held in student centers asking students what they would like to see in the Plaza, Pelardis said.
Among the retailers contacted, Pelardis spoke to apparel stores, including Urban Outfitters and H&M. However, both declined the offer to open a store in the Plaza.
“It’s not a model that is feasible for them. They need to be in a very high-traffic area,” he said.
Though Velez admits that the College Avenue campus will remain popular next year, he said there has been a noticeable increase in students wanting to live on Livingston campus in the past year.
“That’s a positive trend for us,” Velez said.
Samantha Fischer, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore who wanted to live in the Livingston Apartments, said all the spots were filled when she went to apply for housing.
“I think [the Plaza] will attract people, but it deters me because that money could be going to my education,” she said.
All 1,500 spots for the new apartments are full for the fall semester, Velez said.
“We have the luxury that we are so large as the second-largest housing operation in the country that we can offer so many various options, and everyone has different wants and needs,” Velez said.
Housing should have a better idea of confirmed vendors for the Plaza will be available in June and July, Velez said.