Princeton’s Alexander Street may get a new name—“Peter Lewis Boulevard”– if the governing body endorse a name change now being pressed by the University.
The University first floated the idea at private meetings held last year with Mayor Lempert and former Council President Bernie Miller.
According to sources who prefer to remain anonymous, University alumnus and insurance magnate Peter Lewis made a $101 million dollar donation to fund the Arts campus now under construction on Alexander Street. Sources said he made a conditional gift of an additional $2.5 million dollars if the University could arrange to rename Alexander Street.
“He worried about wayfinding,” said a source connected with the University,” who added that Lewis believed that renaming would make the new campus easier to find for people driving from Route One. Lewis envisioned a green highway signs reading: “Peter Lewis Boulevard; Lewis Center for the Arts,” according to the source.
Alexander Street is under municipal jurisdiction, but the county has responsibility for the bridge and the portion of Alexander north of the bridge is in West Windsor. Andrew Koontz, a former Borough Council member and Mercer County Freeholder, said the proposed name change was “news to him,” and doubted West Windsor would agree to a vanity name change for a University donor.
County Executive Brian Hughes could not be reached for comment.
Lempert said she felt obligated to let the University “make its case” because the University “is prepared to discuss financial incentives”
Patrick Simon, who is not running for re-eetion, said the incentives would have to be substantial. ‘You would be shocked at the hidden costs to taxpayers of this sort of change,” he said. “Somebody has to pay for new signs and new directories. Those costs will end up in a governmental budget somewhere, and taxpayers will end up footing the bill.”
Counciwoman Jo Butler, who serves as liaison to the Historic Commission, said she would oppose the plan.
“I thought the University had used up its hubris after steamrolling the relocation of the Dinky Station. This is a bridge too far,” she said. “Can you imagine asking residents of Alexander Street to change their addresses to 31 Peter Lewis Boulevard?”
Butler said the name Alexander is rooted in Princeton history. “The new arts campus is not a shopping mall,” she said. “it does not need a branded street name.”
Council President Lance Liverman said he hoped Council could discus the proposal amicably and he thanked everyone for their feedback on the issue.
Jenny Crumiller, who is up for re-election, was skeptical. “Is this even legal, for us to sell a street name if that is what this boils down to?” she asked. “We are pressed for funds, but there have to be limits”
However, Crumiller said Council should hear what the University has to offer, and she urged Princeton voters to communicate their views and attend the meetings on the issues.
Heather Howard, who is employed by the University, said she would recuse herself. Bernie Miller was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
The mayor said the matter will be discussed at a work session sometime in May.
Resident Anne Neumann, who lives on Alexander Street and is seeking a seat on the council in the June Democratic primary, threatened to file a lawsuit with other residents of Alexander Street if the council approves the renaming. It is not clear how many residents of Alexander Street who are unaffiliated with the university remain, given that the school has being buying up all the property in the neighborhood for its expansion plans.
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