Rutgers students catch glimpse of luxury living $55M downtown dorm is set for opening Thursday, August 04, 2005 BY KELLY HEYBOER Star-Ledger Staff Landing a bed in Rutgers University's new luxury dorm was not easy for junior Kenji Fujishima. First he had to enter a lottery to score one of the coveted apartments. Then he fought with his parents over the cost and eventually took out a loan to cover the nearly $6,000 rent for the academic year. But after touring the new 12-story building in downtown New Brunswick yesterday, Fujishima said it was worth it. "I'm excited," he said, checking out the panoramic view from his corner unit. "It's nice." Rutgers administrators and city officials dedicated the $55 million Rockoff Hall University Apartments -- or "The Rock" -- during a ceremony yesterday in front of the high-rise at the corner of George and New streets. The building, designed by Hillier Architects, includes 186 furnished apartments with full kitchens, cable television, high-speed Internet access and views of New Brunswick, the Raritan River and neighboring towns. A flat-screen television and sleek black leather couches sit beneath a large mural of a rock in the lobby. The building also includes a fitness center, spa, 7-Eleven, Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shop, Douglass Pizza & Grille, Port City Java coffeehouse and an adjacent 815-space parking garage. Maid service is available for students willing to pay extra. Rutgers President Richard McCormick said the 670-student building ranks as the finest accommodations the state university can offer. Rockoff Hall is also the first Rutgers dorm in the heart of downtown New Brunswick. "This is a great day for all of us -- for New Brunswick and for Rutgers," McCormick said. In an unusual arrangement, Rutgers University will not own its new dormitory. The building was constructed by the New Brunswick Development Corp., a nonprofit developer that has worked on several projects with Rutgers. Devco will own and maintain the building while Rutgers will provide the students, run programs and provide security within the residence hall. After 30 years, Devco will have the option of continuing the arrangement, selling the building, converting it into commercial apartments or making other changes, company officials said. Partnerships between private developers and public universities are growing increasingly popular as schools struggle to keep up with demand for upscale dorms without taking on more debt. If Rockoff Hall is a success, the private developer partnership idea may spread to other New Jersey college campuses, said Christopher Paladino, president of Devco. "If this is a big success and students like living downtown, there may be opportunities to do this," Paladino said. Devco officials chose to name the building in honor of Alvin Rockoff, a 1949 Rutgers graduate and member of Devco's board. Now retired, Rockoff is the former director of All Star Dairies in New Brunswick and former president of Hubbard's Cupboard, a family-owned convenience store chain. Though most new university buildings are named after donors who write large checks, Rockoff was chosen for his devotion to New Brunswick and Rutgers. He has served as chairman of the Rutgers Board of Governors and head of several other university boards. Surrounded by four generations of his family and choking back tears, Rockoff cut the ribbon on the new hall and said he was "humbled" by the honor. He noted the building stands on the former site of a hairdresser's shop his mother visited for years. Students have already shortened Rockoff Hall to "The Rock," said George Zoffinger, a member of the Devco and Rutgers boards. "People will say, 'Where do you live? I live at The Rock.' And we'll all think of Alvin Rockoff," said Zoffinger, who called Rockoff his mentor. The dorm is scheduled to open to students Aug. 20. But early reaction to the new building has not been universally positive. Some New Brunswick residents have questioned why the university would house undergraduates in an area isolated from other students, given the city's recent crime problems. Several Rockoff Hall residents are also upset students will be charged $145 a month, the same rate the public will pay, to park in the adjacent parking deck run by the New Brunswick Parking Authority. Students who can't afford the Rockoff rates will have to park on other Rutgers campuses and take a campus bus to their new dorm. More than 90 students have signed an online petition asking the city and the university for a lower parking rate. Some students have also questioned whether the rent for Rockoff Hall is too high. The average undergraduate sharing a double room in a two-bedroom apartment in Rockoff Hall will pay $5,800 rent for the academic year or $7,500 for a full year. The average undergraduate in Rutgers' traditional dorms pay about $5,378 per academic year for a bed in a double room, university officials said. Varun Gera, a junior industrial engineering major, said he debated whether he could afford to live in Rockoff Hall. He decided living in a plush new dorm was more important than food. "If I cancel my meal plan, I can move in here. So I did," said Gera, who says he will get by on food from the Indian restaurant where he works part time. Kelly Heyboer covers higher education. She can be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392- 5929.