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Downtown Development Slated for Next Step; Developers Still Eye Late-2005 Completion

Matthew Hersh

Project developers involved in designing and implementing plans for the downtown development's "Phase II" project now target a mid-fall groundbreaking on the current surface lot at the corner of Tulane and Spring streets.

The construction plans, which received final approval from the Princeton Regional Planning Board in May, call for a five-story, 72,467-square-foot, L-shaped structure, known as "Building C" that will feature 18 one-bedroom apartments, 35 two-bedroom apartments, and a first-floor grocery store.

Representatives of Nassau HKT Associates, the developer of the project, estimate early November for the groundbreaking and the consequent closing of the Spring Street lot. Robert Powell, principal at Nassau HKT, said that once permits for Building C bearing final approval by the state's Council on Affordable Housing are received, construction crews can move in and, depending on weather conditions, could work through most of the winter.

Building C will provide 6 low-income units and 4 moderate-income units.

"We'd like to get the underground and some of the heavy site work done before the heavy winter hits," Mr. Powell said, adding that those plans are, currently, "right on target" for the fall.

Mr. Powell's worst case scenario would be construction delays in February. Crews should be able to work through January, however, regardless of adverse conditions.

"Assuming we can get the groundwork done, we can actually put up steel in the winter," he said.

"We'll be out of the ground by January. Conditions on that part of Spring Street are not nearly as challenging as what we encountered for the garage," he added, referring to the temporary pond that surfaced when the garage foundation was set in 2002. (Harry's Brook runs directly underneath that section of the aptly-named Spring Street.) "We don't expect the same kind of water conditions, so that should make the whole foundation system go a lot faster."

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi affirmed Mr. Powell's prognosis, estimating that the project would be completed in the fall of 2005. He added that an accurate timeline for Phase II depends on the progress of nearby Witherspoon House, the 24-unit housing complex currently under construction next to the library. Two of those units will be for moderate-income housing.

"One year is fairly doable given that [construction crews] won't have to work around the garage," he said.

The Garage Effect

While Princeton Borough has been under fire regarding the efficacy of the garage from Concerned Citizens of Princeton, a community group opposed to downtown development, Mr. Bruschi said the garage was specifically designed to absorb the loss of parking when the Spring Street surface lot makes way for Building C.

"If we close the Spring Street lot, and eighty percent of the cars relocate across the street to the garage, all of a sudden, we're off the second floor and on the third floor," he said.

While conceding that the garage was not yet producing the kind of occupancy for which the Borough was hoping, he pointed out that because summer in Princeton is a "different animal" than the remainder of the year, now is not the best time to judge the success of the garage.

"We're anticipating certainly that parking is going to pick up since it has been picking up every week, even during the summer," he said, adding that the Borough "could not have picked a slower time to open the garage."

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