Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 26
 
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
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Borough, NHKT, Work to Keep Project On Track

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Borough staff updated the public last week on the stalled downtown development project that has led to growing community concern, including discreet references to the possibility of bringing in a new developer, and doubts about the municipality's ability to handle such a daunting development task.

Although last week's presentation did not feature testimony from the developer's firm, Nassau HKT, the project appears to be back on track.

The presentation offered a public review of the negotiation process the Borough has been holding in closed session with the developer. Included were issues related to completing the development's "Phase I," which comprises the completed Hinds Plaza, Witherspoon House, and the Spring Street garage and a list of requirements needed to begin 'Phase II,' a five-story mixed-use commercial and residential complex on what is now a surface parking lot on Tulane Street.

The first phase of development was held up by complications with Verizon regarding the removal of a utility pole on the plaza, as well as a series of liens, now resolved, filed by subcontractors against Troast, the former general contractor on the project. According to municipal administrator Robert Bruschi, Troast no longer has any pending suits in the Borough, and Borough engineer Carl Peters reported that Verizon has indicated that it would begin removing its utility infrastructure "in two to four weeks." The removal of the utility pole will allow for work to get underway on a pergola that would eventually line the plaza.

"This is a report based on reactions we've had so we can say 'here is what we're talking about,'" said Mr. Bruschi in an interview last week. In his report, he added that the goal of the discussion is "to wrap up all of the issues of Phase I and have the project closed out," as well as to address issues linking the first and second phases of the development project.

The legal nature of the discussions with the developer is the reason that most of the meetings have been conducted in closed session, though any changes to the Borough-NHKT developer's agreement would have to be made publicly, as was the case in 2005, when NHKT principal Robert Powell joined financial forces with Witherspoon Grill proprietor Jack Morrison, who provided a $2 million cushion intended to indemnify NHKT. Part of that money has been used to pay off claims from subcontractors, Mr. Bruschi said.

As for Phase II, that project could not fully get underway until repairs to the leaky garage basement were completed. NHKT has told the Borough that those repairs have now been made, Mr. Peters said, adding that Borough engineering consultant Tim Haas is set to conduct a final inspection. According to Mr. Bruschi, the developer will also be responsible for cleaning up "slight contamination" to the soil underneath the Tulane Street lot in accordance with mandates put forth by the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

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