Details of a proposed plan to update the two information kiosks on Nassau Street were the focus of the September 11 meeting of Princeton Borough Council. While Council members expressed interest in the presentation delivered by Peter Crowley, president and CEO of the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce, they had several questions about the plan to make the kiosks more user-friendly and decided to delay voting until more information is provided.
The kiosks have been fixtures at the Nassau Street corners at Vandeventer Avenue and Witherspoon Street for several decades.They are currently used as information boards to advertise cultural and political events, rooms for rent, and the like. Under the plan developed by the Chamber’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, the care and decisions about what is displayed would be overseen by the Chamber.
“I’m sure what you’re planning will be an improvement over what’s there now, visually,” commented Councilman Roger Martindell. “But I’m a little concerned about content.” Social and political messages are currently posted on the kiosks, Mr. Martindell continued. “It’s a public space for public dialogue. It’s sometimes good to be uncomfortable, especially in a community such as ours.” Mr. Martindell continued that by turning them over to the Chamber, the kiosks become mostly commercial. “Who’s going to sit there and say we’ll accept this one and not that one? Do we care about losing that quality?”, he asked.
Resident and former Township mayor Jim Floyd agreed. “I urge you to really give serious consideration as to whether you want to give up that public right and public expression,” he said.
Councilwoman Jo Butler questioned whether the kiosks have become outdated and unnecessary. “They are the vestige of a past way of communicating,” she said, adding, “I’m not sure in the long run whether this is what we want in our streetscape. I’d like some time to take this back to the traffic and transit committee.” Ms. Butler also expressed concern that the updated kiosks could pose a distraction for drivers. “I just worry that this could contribute to these corners becoming less safe,” she said.
Mr. Crowley said that because the kiosks front onto Nassau Street, which is a state highway, there are restrictions about what can be put on the street side. The interactive portion of the kiosks would therefore not be visible from cars traveling on the street.
Mr. Crowley described the renovated kiosks as having eight weather-resistant panels. One would be devoted to the municipality, another would be dedicated to not-for-profits, and a third would be used by the Princeton Merchants’ Association. Instead of a fourth panel, there would be an interactive community screen with information on restaurants, cultural activities, and events on one side; and services such as dog-walking and classes on the other. “They would be organized,” he said. “Someone could push a button and find what they want.” The other four panels would be dedicated to advertising.
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller asked whether ads could be posed only by members of the Chamber, and Mayor Yina Moore asked what percentage would be dedicated to Princeton businesses. Renovating the kiosks is part of a plan by the Chamber to enhance tourism by making information more available to visitors. The front window of Princeton University Store on Nassau Street would be devoted to information for tourists.
“If we didn’t have these at all, would anyone think it was a good idea to install them?” asked Ms. Butler. “I don’t think this is what communities are doing today.”
Mr. Crowley said that the revamped kiosks would be a positive step for both tourists and residents. “I hope when this is done that what you have instead of clutter is a more organized approach to the information,” he said. “It’s a more sustainable use a cleaner look, and it provides individuals with access to more information.”
In other action at the meeting, Council President Barbara Trelstad reported that about half of the $106,000 needed to complete and install sculptural gates at Hinds Plaza, funded by private citizens, has been raised. Mr. Martindell suggested that the Borough make an initial contribution to the effort, though the bulk should continue to come from private funds.