Planet Princeton

Westminster Choir College Supporters Pack Town Hall to Support Historic Designation

A “Keep WCC in Princeton” t-shirt created by coalition members.

About 100 people attended a Princeton Historic Preservation Commission meeting Thursday night to ask officials to declare portions of the Westminster Choir College campus a historic landmark.

Supporters of historic designation hope the move would create a roadblock preventing the sale of the campus.

Rider University owns and operates the choir college in downtown Princeton. Last month, the president of Rider University said school officials are considering closing the Princeton campus and selling the property. The choir college program would then be moved to the main campus in Lawrence. The proposal comes as Rider University faces significant financial challenges.

A representative for Rider University said Thursday night that no decision has been made yet about the fate of the Princeton campus. A decision is expected next month. He also said that the “historic status of the campus is not related to the university’s business decisions,” meaning preserving the campus would not prevent the university from moving the choir college to Lawrence if school officials decide to make the move.

The discussion about the choir college only lasted about half an hour. Audience members did not make individual statements at the microphone.

Constance Fee, president of the Alumni Council of Westminster Choir College, spoke on behalf of college supporters who want the campus preserved and talked about the rich history of the school that has attracted world renowned musicians. The school is regularly ranked one of the top 10 music schools int he country.

The group is retaining experts to formally submit an application for historic landmark designation at the local level. Town officials outlined the process that must be followed to apply for local designation as a historic landmark.

The request for historic landmark designation is just one of many efforts alumni, students and music professionals are taking to convince officials that the campus should remain in Princeton. A Facebook group with almost 3,000 members and a website have been created by the coalition working to preserve the school. Group members are creating t-shirts to promote its cause, and a professional public relations agency is sending out press releases for the group. Westminster alumni performed on Fox 5’s Good Day New York yesterday morning.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Lev Borisov

    Yours is a very sensible post.

    I would expect Princeton U to be interested in this property ONLY if they could make good use of it. They are not a charity. They could conceivably raise tuition, since people might be willing to pay more for a Princeton degree than for a Rider degree. But that may or may not be enough to make WCC profitable. They may also feel that Princeton U and WCC brands are not really compatible and wouldn’t want to bestow Princeton degrees upon WCC graduates.

    Can Princeton build some faculty housing or dorms in there? Not sure how “historic” designation would factor into this but I would imagine that the town might retain some control over it and allow for some development there. I suppose it’s just some form of zoning, but maybe it is not. What are the current zoning rules for WCC anyway?

    It’s going to get messy… I have to point out that Rider just recently put up a new building at WCC — this makes me question their leadership’s business acumen and their accounting practices. I also want to venture a guess that if WCC moves to Lawrence, they will lose some income on the Conservatory side of it. I think if they actually do move WCC to Lawrence, it will not last, and it would be more expensive for Rider than just closing the place down.

    P.S. T-shirts are just silly, imho, but if it makes someone feel better, who am I to object?

  • Douglas Rubin

    I agree with you again Nat.
    .
    Let’s look at it from the perspective of a financially-challenged academic institution struggling to figure out a sustainable economic model under modern circumstances. If they aren’t able to maximize the revenues from the sale of their what-could-be-very valuable property in Princeton, perhaps they have to go out of business.

    If the local folks who want to limit Rider/Westminster’s financial options care so much about keeping the campus as is, perfect they can start with a (restricted?) financial donation to pay for maintenance and upkeep.

  • Nat Bottigheimer

    I’m truly puzzled by the goal of historic preservation here. If someone could help me understand what the historic preservation supporters want to achieve, and how that goal is achievable through a historic preservation measure. I fully admit that I’m skeptical.

    Specific questions:

    Do supporters want to keep everything precisely as it is now?

    Beyond whatever the objectives of preservation are, what exactly is “historically significant” about the campus? With an understandable definition of “historically significant”…

    What makes supporters think that if “keeping things as-is” is their goal, that they can compel an independent institution to support that under any circumstance? What if the campus as is meets no-one’s needs for a campus? Are historic preservation supporters going to pay to keep it as it, seeing as they’re the primary beneficiaries of things staying “as they are now?”

    Is the goal really as naked as using a preservation tool to compel someone to do something for us? “We’re going to compel Rider to maintain a campus in our midst because we spectators prefer this thing we’re familiar and comfortable with to some future we’re suspicious of?”

    Suppose this move is successful and Rider a) can’t sell it and b) still can’t operate or maintain it. Then we have a shuttered campus in our midst that … who? …is going to maintain and do something useful with?

    Do we really expect Princeton University to buy a campus that is inflexible to transformation to whatever the University’s needs might be? Just because they have an endowment?

    Unconvincedly yours…

  • Robert Dana

    Let me get this straight. College tuition, whether at a public or private school, is too high, tuition at public colleges should be free, all college loans should be forgiven and colleges aren’t free to dispose of their assets as they see fit. Especially when, to do so, might help control tuition costs and/or recoup the cost of uncollectible or delinquent loans.

    Maybe the money spent on those nifty t-shirts could have been better spent.

  • Lev Borisov

    You have a valid point. There is a reason WCC had to become part of Rider.

    I do think that “historic landmark” designation may be marginally helpful in that it would make the site less attractive to buyers, thus changing the economic calculations for Rider a little bit. Without access to hard numbers, it is impossible to know how this would affect their decisions.

    In an ideal world, Princeton University might be inclined to make a deal with Rider that would preserve WCC but make it part of Princeton U. This would certainly be not as disruptive as a move to Lawrence and could potentially be beneficial to all parties, if the parameters are right. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so the likelihood of such outcome is low.

  • non believer

    How does this “saved” campus become financially viable?

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Sat 27

Trenton Pork Roll Festival 2017

May 27 @ 10:00 am - 10:00 pm
Sat 27

8th Annual New Jersey Renaissance Faire

May 27 @ 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Sat 27

Wondrous on Witherspoon Pop Up Art Gallery

May 27 @ 12:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Mercer County Memorial Day Ceremony

May 28 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
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