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University Plaza result of unique partnership

By : Katie Ellis

Call it serendipity, but when Marc Newman, managing member of Newman Development Group, accompanied a friend to visit the friend’s daughter at the University of Delaware and saw the student housing complex there, he made a connection with the Vestal Plaza right away.

That was about four years ago, and since then, a unique partnership between Newman Development Group, Ambling Management Company and the Binghamton University Foundation has enabled what Newman refers to as a “major gateway project for the entire area” to take shape.

The Vestal Plaza, now known as University Plaza, is undergoing a major transition into a student housing community complete with all of the amenities students are looking for—utilities, high-speed Internet, computer lab, fitness center, game room, 24-hour emergency maintenance and shuttle transportation to Binghamton University. Such amenities are important to students, according to Terry Webb, the University’s director of Residential Life. “Students want life to be as hassle free as they possibly can get it,” he said. “If you boil it down to what students really want—it’s convenience.” The complex, which will accommodate 720 students in 198 units, is being developed by Ambling Management. Ambling hired Newman’s construction company, Northeast United, to build the complex and the Foundation, through an affiliated entity, is the project owner. “Not only are we taking an old piece of real estate and transforming it into something unique,” said Newman, “but we’re also creating synergy. I saw a need and the partnership creates synergy. We have the right mix and it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The plaza was devoted mainly to retail and service operations in the past, but renovations will be made to the former retail and food area to accommodate some retail as well as a number of food providers that will be attractive to students, said Newman. The renovated University Plaza will also maintain the footprint of the former Vestal Plaza, with the exception of bumping out student housing at the northeastern end of the property. Binghamton University has cooperated with other developers in the past, but this is the first time all of the necessary pieces have fallen into place.

Sheila Doyle, assistant vice president for development administration and finance, said the Foundation was already in the process of forming a separate, non-for-profit entity — the Binghamton University Foundation Housing Corporation — in anticipation of projects on campus. “The other university centers have used this model of financing for many years to benefit their campuses, and we recently developed the legal infrastructure to allow us to take advantage of any opportunity that arose and that seemed right for our campus,” she said. “When we were contacted by Newman Development, it allowed us to fast-track the University Plaza project.”

Doyle, who serves as executive director of the Binghamton University Foundation Housing Corporation Board, said the Foundation did its due diligence before entering into the partnership and is protected. “The cash-flow opportunity was attractive and will yield benefits to the campus over the long term of the project,” she said. “In addition, we have not put any money up front and everything is backed by a bond insurer.”

Non-recourse, tax-exempt bonds were issued whose sole security is the project cash flow and a mortgage of the project, and neither the Foundation, the affiliated entity nor the University pledged to support the bonds. The University did, however, agree to refer students, provide the shuttle service and collect the rent. The student housing phase of the project has a $40 million price tag, said Newman, who added that the public/private partnership created has allowed the project to proceed on schedule. “It all came together,” said Newman. “Everybody saw the vision. This shows how important it is for all of us to work together to bring back our area. We have a lot to offer.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08