The Princeton Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance tonight that would allow the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce to lease the kiosk at the corner of Nassau Street and Witherspoon Street for the next five years. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the main meeting room of the municipal complex at 400 Witherspoon Street.
The Chamber, which would place some advertising from businesses on the kiosk, would lease the kiosk for $1 per year if the ordinance is approved. The Chamber will keep all the advertising revenue earned from the kiosk. There is no guarantee that all the advertisers will all be Princeton businesses, though Chamber leaders have said their goal is to promote Princeton businesses.
Under the lease agreement, the kiosk would be managed by the Chamber and used for the purpose of “providing information to the public in the form of maps, directories and promotional materials.” The agreement does not spell out what percentage of the kiosk will be for public use. Under the agreement, the administrator will review the structure that will replace the existing kiosk, and will be responsible for enforcing the lease.
Oddly, the lease is dated for today, even though the vote tonight is only to introduce the ordinance. The Council would still have to hold a public hearing and then vote to adopt the ordinance at another meeting. The lease agreement includes a photo of what the kiosk would look like, but not actual specs on terms of the size, measurement, materials, etc.
The kiosks are located in a historic district. Christine M. Lewandoski, the historic preservation officer and deputy zoning officer for Princeton, sent an email to Princeton Historic Preservation Commission members on April 11 informing them that the state would need to approve the kiosk renovations under the New Jersey Historic Places Act.
Lewandoski had sent images of the revised proposal for the kiosks to a senior historic preservation specialist at the state, who said the change in roofing material would mean the renovations require state approval. Town officials later countered that the roofing material will stay the same, and thus the kiosk renovation does not require state approval.
The Princeton Council was split at its last meeting on whether to allow the Chamber to manage the two kiosks on Nassau Street. After debating the issue, the Council decided to allow the Chamber to renovate one kiosk, but to leave the other one the way it is for now.
Councilman Bernie Miller said even though all his friends told him they wanted the kiosks to stay just as they are, he thinks they are unsightly.
“It looks like a street corner in a rustbelt town,” he said. “This plan would be a great improvement over what is there now. Frankly I think either they ought to be replaced or removed.”
Councilman Lance Liverman said giving control of the kiosks to the Chamber would also save a few tax dollars and show support for the business community.
“This is a lease agreement, “Liverman said. “If we don’t like how it goes we can do something different down the road.”
Architect Bob Hillier presented revised plans for the kiosks. As part of his firm’s design, the kiosks would be shaped like crosses to provoke more surface area for posters and public notices.
Councilman Patrick Simon said though he previously opposed the proposal, the revisions to the plan strike a good balance and serve both the business community and the public.
“If you go look at the kiosks, they are not something to be proud of right now,” Simon said. “The concern I had in February was that we were commercializing the town. What this is doing is striking a balance.”
But other council members said many Princeton residents want the kiosks to remain as they are, even if they are messy.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that citizens like them the way they are and they want them to stay,” Councilwoman Jo Butler said.
“It’s not worth adding paid advertising where we don’t see it now, and taking away the character of the downtown,” Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said. “The public works department can spruce up the the kiosks and the cost is not humongous.”
Councilwoman Heather Howard said the kiosks are part of what makes Princeton special.
“We are seeing an increasing commercialization, and more chains coming in to Princeton, Howard said. “This is a solution to a problem that doesn’t need fixing. I’m not hearing form anyone who is concerned about them. I have a friend who can put up notices about his band. It really is a part of what makes the town unique.”
Liverman accused Council members who oppose the plan of not wanting to support local businesses. “I don’t see why this isn’t a win win,” he said.
The Council was divided 3-3 on the issue, which meant Lempert would cast the tie-breaking vote. Lempert then proposed that the Chamber renovate one kiosk and see how it works out.