April 21, 2021

Supporting Efforts to Bring New Life to Princeton Shopping Center

To the Editor:

I write in support of efforts to bring new life to the Princeton Shopping Center (PSC), and I hope that members of the Planning Board and Council will designate this an “area in need of redevelopment” in their upcoming meetings.

When I first moved into town, the PSC seemed to me a dull fixture of the suburbs. But there were two things I failed to appreciate: (1) the real charm of the center and what it has meant to the Princeton community; and (2) how much work is needed to improve commerce and the physical structure.

With downtown Princeton nearby, I’d never expected my wife, son, and I to spend so much time at the PSC. Before the pandemic, we attended the concerts and the arts-and-culture festivals. During the pandemic, we eat outside — protected from the rain — at Lillipies and The Blue Bears.

It’s easy to dismiss the PSC as a relic of the 1950s. But there are few other sites in the area that combine basic needs (the supermarket, the hardware store, the pediatrician) and local flare.

The problem is that, without concerted action, the PSC really will become a relic. The roof is often in need of repairs. There is flooding, as the complex was built in an era before stormwater concerns. And, even pre-COVID, there were a number of vacant storefronts.

What’s more, North Harrison Street is experiencing new and exciting change. Plans for housing developments are already in the works on the south side of the PSC, and also to the north near Terhune Road. It’s a corridor that will offer more density and more affordable living options.

The PSC is smack in the middle of all this change — and the “area in need of redevelopment” designation would allow it to grow and evolve with the rest of the North Harrison community. The designation would give the property owner more flexibility to fix up and redesign the complex.

Just look at Hinds Plaza, which was itself the product of redevelopment two decades ago. That designation allowed for public-private collaboration and significant community input in order to create our town’s most vibrant space.

When it comes to the PSC, the residents of North Harrison deserve a smart and sustainable, 21st-century commercial hub — not one that is mostly one-story and completely surrounded by giant (and rarely filled) parking lots. We should aim high: for more street frontage and greater bike and pedestrian access.

But we also need to respect the history and the character of the PSC. These things do matter. So let’s keep internal courtyards that allow children to play safely. Let’s keep important anchors like McCaffrey’s while continuing to make smaller storefront space available to mom-and-pop shops and new local ventures.

In short, local officials have an opportunity to usher North Harrison into the future without losing sight of what made it so attractive in the first place.

Brian Levinson
Patton Avenue