Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 32
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

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Iris Interiors

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Weather Forecast

Hospital Keeping Community in Mind

Anne Levin

In planning for the move to its energy efficient, state-of-the-art facility on Route 1 next May, officials at the University Medical Center at Princeton have kept in mind residents of the neighborhood surrounding the current hospital building on Witherspoon Street. The hospital will establish a community information center in the medical office building that is to remain at the site, where AvalonBay Communities, Inc. plans to build an apartment complex.

“The center will have a bilingual staff that can arrange transportation for people who otherwise can’t get to the new hospital in Plainsboro,” said Barry S. Rabner, President and Chief Executive Officer of Princeton Healthcare System, which runs the hospital. “It is not for emergency room visits, but it’s for routine care and clinic visits. We’ll also provide information programs. These will continue as long as it fills a need in the community.”

PHCS announced last week that it had made an agreement to sell the 9.8-acre property, which includes nine rental houses, to AvalonBay, for an undisclosed sum. The company counts 13 apartment communities in New Jersey in its extensive portfolio. This was an important consideration, Mr. Rabner said, when deciding which of the 125 companies expressing interest in the parcel would be selected to purchase the tract.

“We knew it was important to have a company with broad and meaningful experience in New Jersey. New Jersey has a lot of unique qualities, and having business experience in the state could only help,” he said. “We also wanted a developer who had created communities in places similar to Princeton. People here care passionately about what happens in their town. We wanted a company that said they would work with the community. Of course, they all say that. But we had a good feeling about AvalonBay.”

That company’s vice president, Ron Ladell, said the fact that the company builds and manages its communities makes a difference. “All the people who manage, construct and develop our properties are actually based in Woodbridge,” he said. “As a result, we think we can be very responsive and try to understand the particular marketplace we’re seeking to develop. We’re not a merchant builder. We become an active neighbor and active participant in the surrounding community. We’re there.

AvalonBay owns Avalon Run and Avalon East apartments in Lawrence, and Avalon Princeton Junction. The company recently bought the 776-unit Fox Run complex in Plainsboro. AvalonBay is a New York Stock Exchange-listed investment trust that develops, redevelops, acquires, and manages apartment complexes throughout the U.S. The company owns or has interest in 195 apartment buildings with more than 56,000 individual units in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

The hospital property has zoning approvals for up to 280 residential units and 79,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. The property includes the three-story, 741-space parking garage, which will stay. The medical office building known as 281 will also probably remain, as will the nine rental houses on the site. But the main hospital building will likely be demolished to make way for the apartment complex.

Sitting in his comfortable office with a wall of windows, Mr. Rabner expressed a measure of nostalgia for the complex, portions of which date back 90 years. “It’s hard to imagine, because this is our home,” he said. “However, it’s more difficult for me to imagine how you would take these buildings and convert them to the kind of apartments any of us would want to live in.”

Both Mr. Rabner and Mr. Ladell feel Princeton needs an apartment complex within walking distance of shops, restaurants, the Princeton Public Library, Princeton University, and other amenities. Though it is too early to say when construction will begin or exactly how the complex will look, the preliminary plans showed “an attractive building open to the community, with green space,” said Mr. Rabner.

Traffic will lessen on local streets, he added. “We’ve probably got 1,800 employees on three shifts, and dozens of trucks that won’t be coming into Princeton,” he said. “That will make a significant difference. There will be more life on the street, but less traffic. And having open public space will be a huge improvement.”

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