Firms vie to study downtown garage feasibility

Six design firms have proposed economic feasibility studies for downtown Princeton redevelopment.

By: Jennifer Potash
   Six firms have submitted proposals to conduct an economic feasibility study of building a parking garage as part of a downtown redevelopment plan in Princeton Borough.
   The proposed studies range in cost from $20,000 to $150,000, according to Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi, who was sending a report on the proposals to the mayor and council for the 7:30 p.m. meeting at Borough Hall tonight.
   The six firms that submitted proposals are: Nexus Properties of Trenton; Timothy Haahs & Associates of Blue Bell, Pa.; Desman Associates of New York; King Interests of Carnegie Center, West Windsor; Kehrt, Shatken, Sharon Architects of Princeton Township; and Wallace, Roberts & Todd of Philadelphia.
   The list of candidates will be whittled down to two or three firms for the mayor and council to interview for the job, Mr. Bruschi said.
   Cost will be a factor in the selection of the firm, but more important is how the candidate would approach the process and bring together all the community input on the development plans, Mr. Bruschi said.
   Once a firm is selected to do the study, Mr. Bruschi said he would like to have it completed in 60 to 90 days.
   The most optimistic scenario is to have the council conduct the interview by early July, he said.
   "We need to move as quickly as we can if there is any hope of tying a parking garage, if it is financially do-able, together with the library," Mr. Bruschi said. "We’ve got to catch up where (the Princeton Public Library) is."
   The Library Board of Trustees plans to review a report tonight that will show the detailed plans for a proposed three-story library building. The Borough Council and the Princeton Township Committee will review the report at a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Borough Hall.
   Earlier this year, Borough Engineer Carl Peters presented the council with a concept plan for the redevelopment of the borough-owned Park and Shop lot on Spring Street that includes a three-story building with retail, office and residential uses wrapped around a garage. Across the street, a new L-shaped building for restaurant, retail and office use is proposed on the existing South Tulane Street metered parking lot. A plaza and an extension of Chambers Walk from Vandeventer Avenue through Witherspoon Street also is envisioned.
   The new parking – to accommodate existing needs as well as an expanded library, Arts Council of Princeton building and the newly proposed retail and office uses – would double the amount of parking now provided on the existing two lots to 564 spaces, Mr. Peters said.
   Mr. Peters’ concept plan was intended as a guideline for the firms submitting proposals.
   Through the proposals, the borough hopes to gain a sense of how that area can be developed. Some of the financial questions facing the borough include not only how to pay for a garage but also how to make up for the lost income on the properties during construction.
   In a related matter, the council is expected to discuss tonight the possible introduction of an ordinance that would raise the parking meter rates to $1.50 an hour in Palmer Square and on Hulfish Street and $1 an hour in other parts of the central business district, including Nassau Street between Bayard Lane and Vandeventer Avenue, Chambers Street from Nassau Street to Hulfish Street, and Witherspoon Street from Nassau Street to Paul Robeson Place. The meters in the Griggs Corner lot, off Witherspoon Street, would also be raised to a $1 an hour.
   The current meter rate, adopted in 1998, is 75 cents an hour in all these areas.
   Council members have pushed for the higher rates in order to generate $100,000 to replenish the borough’s surplus accounts to keep future tax increases at a lower rate. The higher rates, for the meters most in demand, would discourage meter feeding by downtown employees, encourage shoppers in the central business district to use the two Palmer Square garages, freeing up the on-street spaces for short-term customers running errands, said Arch Davis, chairman of the Borough Traffic and Transportation Committee.
   Anticipating opposition from merchants and residents to the rate increases, Mr. Bruschi and other borough staff have met to consider alternatives to the rate increase.
   While that plan will not be completed for at least another week, Mr. Bruschi said the topics on the list include extending meter enforcement hours to 8 and 9 p.m. in certain areas; enforcing meters on Sundays; across-the-board rate increases for all meters in all locations; and increases for targeted meters.
   Should the council not want to discuss any of those alternatives, the list "will at least provide us with the knowledge that we have explored and considered other options," Mr. Bruschi said.
   Copies of petitions, with 2,578 signatures, that downtown merchants circulated in their businesses opposing higher meter rates and longer meter enforcement hours, were sent to the council members.
   Mayor Marvin Reed said he plans to revive a suggestion he made two years ago to fit the borough’s 400 electronic meters with smart-card technology.
   The benefits of the card, notwithstanding having to carry less change in one’s pockets, include providing discounts to residents who purchase the $25 or $50 cards, and serving as a payment method for fares should the borough establish a jitney or loop bus service from the central business district to the Dinky train station, Mayor Reed said.