May 24, 2017

New Lewis Center Progressing on Schedule

TAKING SHAPE: Construction continues at Princeton University’s Arts and Transit Project as the Lewis Center for the Arts nears completion. The building that will be used as rehearsal and teaching space for the Music Department is in the foreground. (Image Courtesy of Princeton University)

Under construction since 2013, Princeton University’s Arts and Transit Project is starting to look more like a complex of modernist buildings and pedestrian plazas than a construction site. The $330 million project is nearing completion right on schedule, with buildings targeted to open for the coming academic year. A weekend of events celebrating the new facilities is planned for October 5-8.

During the past few weeks, fences and netting that protected the construction site have been removed, providing a new view of the buildings and pathways.

“It is definitely starting to feel that there is a new phase here,” said Kristin Appelget, the University’s director of community and regional affairs. “People are expressing excitement and a sense of how they will see themselves in the space. It is still hard to imagine the venues, because they aren’t finished yet. But the landscaping is underway and you can get a real sense of how the plantings are going to fit into the site.”

New buildings to house the Lewis Center for the Arts and the University’s Department of Music, designed by architect Steven Holl, are the focus of the Arts and Transit neighborhood. The new Princeton train station and Wawa market, designed by Rick Joy, opened in 2014, while the Dinky Bar and Kitchen began serving customers in the former train station building last year. Cargaux, a French bistro in the second former train station structure, is scheduled to open in June. Both restaurants are run by The Fenwick Hospitality Group.

The Arts and Transit project was controversial and resulted in litigation because of opposition to the move of the train station. Also causing complaints from some local residents was the demolition of several houses, some dating back to the 1860s, to make room for the new buildings. The University offered the houses free to anyone willing to move them, but there were no takers because of the complicated logistics involved.

Performance venues of the complex will include a black box theater, an experimental media studio, a dance studio, a music rehearsal room. Also part of the project are new teaching and administrative spaces.

Construction has included a new parking lot for the train station and a new roundabout at University Place and Alexander Street. The sidewalks from the crosswalk outside McCarter Theatre on Alexander Street have now been reopened. Trees are being planted in the area earmarked for public plazas.

The October 6-8 weekend of events will include performance in the new Lewis Center buildings as well as arts venues across the campus.

“I think people are starting to get a real sense of how it will be as a pedestrian walking through. There has definitely been a big change in the past two weeks,” said Ms. Appelget. “Once the trees start going in, everyone is going, ‘Whoa.’”