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Apartments, Plaza Expected to Open By Early Next Month

Candace Braun

With less than a month to go before Witherspoon House is set to be completed, 19 of the 24 apartments have already been leased to anxious tenants, according to Dianne Bleacher of N.T. Callaway, the real estate broker leasing and managing the new units.

"I've been showing these apartments since October. It's exciting to see the project get finished," she said.

Both the apartments and new plaza next to the Princeton Public Library on Witherspoon Street, part of the Borough's first phase in the downtown redevelopment project, are set to be complete by the beginning of May, said Ms. Bleacher.

A new restaurant, Witherspoon Grill, and women's boutique, Rouge, which will be located on the bottom floor of the building, are due to open by mid-summer, she added.

The second phase of the project, an additional five-story building with 53 apartments and a grocery store, will be built on the former surface lot on Spring Street. This project is scheduled to begin construction late this year, with completion in 2006.

With a central location in the heart of Princeton, the one-bedroom units in Witherspoon House are being rented at prices starting at $1,500, and two-bedroom units are renting for prices as high as $3,500 a month, said Ms. Bleacher. Developed by Nassau HKT Urban Design Associations, the building currently has two one-bedroom units, and three two-bedroom units still available. Six apartments are housed on each of the four floors available to tenants, with 12-month minimum lease terms.

"They're going quickly," said Ms. Bleacher, adding that she was amazed how much interest the rental units have generated, as compared with properties that are available to buy in town. Some of the features that have enhanced the properties' desirability include a private elevator for building tenants, balconies with French doors in select apartments, pre-wiring for telephone, cable TV, and high speed Internet access, and top floor units that give tenants a "bird's eye view of Princeton," said Ms. Bleacher.

The units also back to the Spring Street garage, with a covered walkway that allows tenants to park in the garage without having to go outside.

The apartments will also be in close proximity to Witherspoon Grill, a 142-seat restaurant owned by Jack Morrison, the proprietor of Blue Point Grill and Nassau Street Seafood. The restaurant, also designed by Nassau HKT, will have a grill menu that will feature steaks, seafood, burgers, salads, and sandwiches, at prices ranging from $8 for lunch to $28 for dinner.

"We are all excited about the design and concept of the [restaurant] and look forward to getting it open soon," said Mr. Morrison, adding that there have been no changes to the project since he presented plans to Borough Council in December.

Witherspoon Grill will feature a dining area, lounge, bar, and outdoor seating that will front the new plaza, also scheduled for completion in May.

Trees in the plaza should start going in within the next few weeks, said Ms. Bleacher, adding that after seeing the popularity of outdoor dining at Mediterra, she anticipates the popularity of this restaurant, "spreading like wild fire."

Following the opening of the new plaza, which Borough Council has decided not to name formally, Princeton Future's Community-Based Neighborhood Retail Initiative is planning to hold an opening celebration. The festivities, which will involve local businesses, will be held in late September, said Sheldon Sturges, co-chair of Princeton Future.

The Princeton Public Library will also begin holding events in the public plaza once it is completed. However the library is holding off until its formal completion before any events are planned, said Tim Quinn, public information director for the library.

In related news, Borough Council introduced an ordinance last week that bans smoking in the plaza area on Witherspoon Street, by a margin of 4 to 1, with Councilman David Goldfarb dissenting. Councilwoman Wendy Benchley was absent from the vote.

Citing the ban as "a measure to protect public health and safety, while eliminating the potential of any fire hazard within this new public complex," both Borough Attorney Michael Herbert and Borough Police Chief Anthony Federico lobbied for Council to consider adding the rule to the proposed ordinance.

The recommendation was made in accordance with the state's proposed "Smoke-Free Air Act," which, if passed, would allow each municipality to provide smoking restrictions that are equivalent to, or greater than, those outlined by the new state law that bans smoking in public facilities. Council agreed not to enforce closing hours on the plaza that are enforced in public parks, as residents may want to walk through the area following dinner or a movie. However members were up in arms as to whether or not residents should be allowed to smoke in the outdoor area. Councilman David Goldfarb felt very strongly that enforcing a no-smoking rule in a public place would only serve as a hassle to the Borough, which would have to find a way to enforce the law. "What public good does it do to ban smoking in a public place?" he said. "People are not going to stop smoking because we disagree with it."

Roger Martindell felt strongly that Council should move forward with the smoking ban, to stay in accordance with Council's rule in other public areas, such as parks.

According to Ms. Bleacher of N.T. Callaway, making the plaza smoke-free would keep it uniform with the rest of the downtown redevelopment project, as both Witherspoon House and the Witherspoon Grill will be smoke-free facilities.

"I think [banning smoking] would add to the whole atmosphere we're trying to create in that area," she said.

Council will hold a public hearing on the plaza ordinance at its April 26 meeting.

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