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Parking woes cloud merchants' outlook on downtown project

This article was published in the Princeton Packet on May 8, 2007

<div align=right><small>Staff photo by Mark Czajkowski</small></div><b>Merchants worry about the impact of losing this Tulane Street surface parking lot to the downtown development project. In the background is the Spring Street Garage.<hr>
Staff photo by Mark Czajkowski
Merchants worry about the impact of losing this Tulane Street surface parking lot to the downtown development project. In the background is the Spring Street Garage.

Princeton's downtown redevelopment project may be delayed and incomplete, but that's not the only concern of merchants in Princeton Borough's central business district.

Businesses, from Spring to Nassau streets, and shopping staples, from the Princeton Record Exchange to Landau's, are all bracing for the parking problems they fear will be brought on by the final phase of the borough's redevelopment project.

Although delayed, the five-story mixed use building slated for the Tulane Street surface parking lot has some borough merchants gritting their teeth in anticipation of the decrease in parking spaces for their customers.

Unlike major cities, said Barry Weisfeld, managing member of the Princeton Record Exchange, people expect to be able to park near their destination. And in the suburbs, the founder of the independent record store added, they don't want to park in a garage.

"You're taking away one parking lot, and you're not replacing it with another," Mr. Weisfeld said. "Princeton is going to be a much tougher place to park in the next couple years."

Despite the challenges ahead, the Princeton Record Exchange isn't going anywhere. Having just signed another long-term lease that keeps the store at its current South Tulane Street location well beyond the next 10 years, Mr. Weisfeld said for now the store will have to make due with whatever spots its customers can find.

But some downtown merchants conceded that the forthcoming construction period, which might make access to Spring Street and South Tulane Street extremely difficult, could make or break a business.

"It's affected us dramatically," said David Rosendorf, the owner of Spring Street's The Frame Shoppe. "The street has been closed off so many times and we're about to have another bout of it," he added referring to the first phase of the redevelopment project, which included the Spring Street garage, the Witherspoon House and the public plaza that is nearly completed.

Robert Powell, principal of downtown developer Nassau HKT, said his company will do its best to work with merchants to minimize any inconvenience attached to construction of the final phase of the downtown development, including keeping construction materials out of streets and on site.

Mr. Powell conceded that street closures would be necessary at some point but said that Nassau HKT will attempt to schedule those outside of peak shopping hours.

Although the groundbreaking for the final building in the revitalization project has not been scheduled — both the Borough Council and the downtown developer are currently renegotiating the contract — some merchants said they can't help but remain cautious on the project's overall benefit.

Because of the delay in the public plaza's completion — which has been awaiting a pergola for years — Mr. Rosendorf has put off turning the back room of his frame shop into an art gallery that would have access from the plaza. Although the project was "a great idea" meant to revitalize downtown Princeton, he added, it has left many merchants waiting and waiting for Nassau HKT and the borough to finish the job.

"I don't think any merchant on Spring Street is happy," Mr. Rosendorf said. "In order for it to be a good thing for the borough and the merchants, they have to finish it."

And Jill Carpe, owner of the Shop the World at Salty Dog, agrees.

Her Spring Street business has been in a state of flux since the redevelopment project began in 2003. First was a metal fence that blocked the back entrance to her store, which fronts on the plaza. Now that the fence is gone, she said, it is likely that the anticipated pergola will do the same.

"The whole thing has been such a waste of money," Ms. Carpe said.

Merchants on South Tulane Street, which will border the proposed five-story building, fear the long awaited construction will discourage foot traffic in front of their stores, and once the building is completed, many said potential customers will have difficulty parking.

With the addition of 53 apartments in the proposed mixed-use building, Mark Virtue, the manager of Nicholas F. Rizzo Fine Arts on South Tulane Street, said the Spring Street parking garage could be overrun with residents of the downtown development, instead of customers.

"Its 106 people," Mr. Virtue said, estimating the number of residents in the proposed building. "Where are you going to put them? That's 106 people that have no place to park now."

For the entire development project, which includes an additional 24 residential units in the Witherspoon House, the borough agreed to give Nassau HKT 45 parking permits. With more residents and not enough permits, Mr. Virtue questioned how much parking would be available when the project is completed.

"Personally, I don't see what benefit it actually has except lining people's pockets," Mr. Virtue said.

On the other hand, Mr. Powell sees the addition of residents and retail space downtown as a boost for Princeton's businesses.

"We're bringing 77 new households to downtown," Mr. Powell said. "We're bringing a little bit more retail and the overall project has resulted in the new library that's generating a tremendous amount of shopping activity," the developer added.

As for parking, Mr. Powell said the borough and the planning board with Nassau HKT studied the amount of parking that would be available once the entire project was completed. They determined, he added, the Spring Street garage would bring more parking to the borough than ever before, and it would be more convenient.

"While there are some that still feel that this will make parking matters worse, I think the general sense downtown is that the parking situation downtown has become considerably less than a problem," Mr. Powell said. "It's natural for some merchants to feel concerned about change like this. Keep in mind that a lot of people said three or four years ago no one would ever park in this garage and, of course, we know is not the case."

The redevelopment's impact has also affected merchants on Nassau Street. Businesses, like Triumph Brewing Company, are struggling to find room for delivery trucks already, said Eric Nutt, manager of corporate sales and marketing for Triumph. With additional construction and density, making deliveries might become more challenging, he added.

"It's become increasingly difficult to do business with traffic flow and deliveries," Mr. Nutt said. "I don't think anyone is opposing more commerce in downtown Princeton. It's about the logistics of getting it done," he said of the downtown project.

While recognizing past complaints of parking in Princeton, Bill Howard, co-owner of Nassau Street's Triangle Copy Center, called the anticipated construction, as well as the entire redevelopment project, an "outstanding idea." Although it's seen its fair share of problems, such as flooding in the bottom floor of the parking garage, Mr. Howard said, the redevelopment brings more activity to the borough and, consequently, more business.

"It's proved to be the best thing the borough has ever done," Mr. Howard said. "I think it's good for business, and it's good for the borough."


This Article was written by Courtney Gross and Published in the Princeton Packet on 05/08/07. We appreciate their attention to the local businesses of Princeton, and highly recommend Princeton Packet for those interested in reading about local and regional news.


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