Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 26
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
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Borough Council Considers Question Of Community Access in A & T Zone

Anne Levin

Increasing the local community’s access to cultural attractions is one of the objectives of Princeton University’s proposal for a newly zoned Arts and Transit neighborhood. Just how much access the local community will have was among the topics under discussion at Borough Council’s meeting last week.

The University’s Vice President and Secretary Robert K. Durkee told Council members in a presentation that planning for the proposed complex has always included community access among its goals. The performance and gathering spaces would be comprised of a 150-seat black box theater, a gallery, a 120-seat theater for dance, a music rehearsal and performance hall with 100 seats, a collaborative studio, acting and dance studios, and a flexible, 8,000-seat event space known as a forum.

“Will there be space available to individuals or individual groups?,” asked Council member Barbara Trelstad. “Will there be regular access?”

Mr. Durkee responded, “From the beginning, we have thought about this as a site that would lend itself to be used by the community. We have always understood this as a site to meet university needs first, but always also thought of it as a site to meet the needs of other groups in the community.”

The second phase of the project would create additional space for campus and community groups, Mr. Durkee said, including an experimental media studio and a 650 to 800-seat performance hall. Currently, he said, the University provides performance space for local community cultural organizations, primarily at Richardson Auditorium. “Already, nearly half the the public events at Richardson are held by non-University groups,” he said. Adding new rehearsal space in the proposed Arts and Transit neighborhood would provide approximately 80 additional evening performance times at Richardson each year.

Council member Jo Butler commented that rental of Richardson can be prohibitively expensive to community groups. During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Mimi Omiecinski disagreed with Ms. Butler, saying the auditorium is affordable considering its much-lauded design, history, and acoustics.

In his presentation, Mr. Durkee added that performances by Princeton Summer Theatre, the Princeton Festival, Theater Intime and other groups on campus have been open to the public. While the rehearsal spaces and studios would be primarily for the use of the University community, they would be available for additional programming by community groups during the academic year and the summer months.

Public spaces would also be included in the plan, drawing patrons, and community members to activities such as outdoor concerts and chess tournaments.

Other topics covered in the presentation were parking, the improvement of traffic flow, pedestrian safety, and the ongoing discussions about moving the Dinky. Mr. Durkee told Council members and residents that regarding the Dinky station, “The status quo is not an option. The Dinky station will be relocated even if this site is developed within existing zoning.”

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