Princeton University Arts and Transit Project Construction Work Could Begin as Early as Next Spring

Inside the Dinky waiting room. The space is slated to become a cafe. The ticket window would be where coffee is served.

Princeton University officials hope the school can begin construction on its $300 million arts and transit neighborhood by this coming spring, school officials said.

The Lewis Center for the Arts, the centerpiece of the project, would probably open in 2017, Princeton University architect Ron McCoy told the Princeton Borough and Princeton Township site plan review advisory board tonight.

Asked why the project would take so long, McCoy said the first phase will be moving the train tracks and station, the most controversial part of the plan. Some residents oppose moving the station farther from the center of town and two lawsuits are pending regarding the issue.

More than 40 people attended the advisory board meeting at the township municipal building, most of them university consultants and employees. Steven Holl, the architect for the arts center, sat in the audience for most of the meeting.

Bill Wolfe, the chairman of the advisory board, raised concerns about the project, questioning whether the proposed transit center design is an appropriate gateway to the town and university.

Wolfe said the center should reflect a sense of civic pride and recommended a grand public plaza and spaces that create a link between the station and both the downtown and the center of the university.

“It should be simpler, grander, and more directly connected to the downtown,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe also said the proposed arts center should be located closer to McCarter Theatre. He said the distance between the two does not take advantage of any potential cross-over between McCarter and the arts center.

He suggested that University Place should run straight to the transit plaza, and expressed concerns that drivers would need to navigate too many things like a roundabout, turns and traffic light make it to the new train station. Wolfe suggested the train station be located half way between the existing location and the proposed location.

McCoy said the university has looked at every possible alternative over the last four years and no alternatives work. “It is where it is,” McCoy said.

The 1,000-square-foot proposed  train station would offer a seating area with wooden benches. Ticket machines would be located outside. A bike rack would accommodate up to 60 bikes, and the university plans to offer a bike rental program, offering up to 10 bikes. The new Wawa would be located in a separate building. University officials said station details in terms of the location of the ticket machines would be decided by NJ Transit.

The existing station would be converted into a cafe, but the interior and exterior design would remain the same, officials said. The south station would be converted into a restaurant.

Advisory board members debated whether to recommend that the Princeton Regional Planning Board approve the application or simply pass along the board’s comments. The university’s lawyer urged the board to recommend approval. After some debate, the board decided to recommend that the plan be approved, but with Wolfe’s comments and concerns included in the recommendation that will now be forwarded to the planning board.