April 6, 2010 Minutes

April 6, 2010 meeting of
PRinceton Future

Present: Kevin Wilkes, Member of Borough Council; Robert Geddes, PF Chair Emeritus, PF; Peter Kann, PF; Susan Hockaday, PF; Shirley Satterfield, PF; Kristin Appelget, Princeton University; Pam Hersh, University Medical Center; Michael Farewell, PF; Allan Kehrt, PF; Sandra Persichetti, Princeton Community Housing; Paul Fitzhenry, TYCO; Jennifer Brunnelle, NRG Energy; Rick Weiss, Viocare; Mimi Omiecinski, Princeton Bike Tours; Shari Powell, Princeton Education Foundation; Anton Lahnston, Borough Traffic and Transportation Committee; Raoul Momo, PF; Ryan Lilienthal, PF; Emily Reeves, Town Topics; Krystal Knapp, Trenton Times; Dilshanie Perera, Town Topics; Dan Bauer, McCarter Theater; Scott Hoerl, Rider University

The Monument to George Washington
under the blossoms of the apple trees.

Kevin Wilkes led off with a powerpoint presentation pointing out that good things happen when we all work together. “The refurbishment, re-lighting and re-planting of Monument Park in front of Boro Hall is a perfect example of the type of thing that can happen when we all work and invest together.“ he said. And he continued…

“What a great model! Why don’t we do this all of the time? We need an institutional structure that will allow us to draw on the collective intelligence and knowledge base of this community every day of the week. A special improvement district has statutory authority. It draws funds from participating donors such as nearby large employers as well as from assessments from property owners in the town. We can create our district plan for physical design and maintenance.”

“Why should we do this? Things stall due to levels of friction…Boro-Twp, PU-Boro, Citizens-Merchants, etc. My preference would be for the Township and for the Borough to form the SID jointly, in partnership with the University, the Seminary, Rider and the Institute. This is a strategy that be a forerunner to consolidation. The vote on consolidation will be a year from next November.”

“What are the benefits? We would have a plan based on neighborhood-by-neighborhood input.”

“Where would this go? The entire length of Witherspoon St and, on Nassau St, from Bayard Lane to Scotts Lane, essentially capturing all business addresses. The more inclusive the better. We need to engage in WHAT IF? planning. Our current planning system is not set up to do this! A fresh set of eyes is always good for a project. Princeton Future has been doing this work and has shown us the way it can work to all of our benefit. All you have to do is to look out the window at the plaza, with shops and trees and some affordable apartments. This organization we are calling the Princeton
Partnership would do planning and bring form-based code strategies to the fore.”

“Palmer Square is a good example of what can be accomplished by a SID. The streets are cleaned and plowed in a timely and courteous way. The Spirit of Princeton, with its funding of the Memorial Day Parade, July 4th Fireworks and the beautification of Tiger Park. Communiversity is the type of event that can happen when there is a common focus. We have 2 groups of merchants now: Hometown Princeton and the Princeton Merchants Association. We also have the Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Partnership would bring all of these efforts together. While, the municipal governments can not off-load existing line item expenses into the SID, it can certainly join the Partnership by providing discounts on parking and other promotions. There can monies invested in façade and design improvements. There can be joint merchandising of the downtown.”

“This organization can become the leadership group.”

“The Partnership can address the single biggest issue we face: how to reduce traffic and improve mobility in this town.”

“Do we ride our own car?…or do we ride a public car? Princeton University has joined with Princeton Boro and Princeton Township to follow up on idea that first surfaced in a Princeton Future meeting: coordinating all of the existing transit options in the town. There needs to be a way to take the Freebie from the Eastern side of town, down Nassau St to the Western side of town during the day. It would be a great benefit to our seniors. And maybe so the rest of us don’t have to drive our cars.”

“The grand strategy will be to provide true rapid transit. We, as a community, can use a system that actually gets people downtown and around the town. We can transform the Dinky into the beginnings of a Bus Rapid Transit system that runs on a dedicated roadway, out of the traffic from the Junction to the Downtown on Nassau St. It can become an expressway for existing buses as well. And we can use the roadway as a bike path and pedestrian path.”

“The Partnership can address strategies for parking that will allow certain types of controlled development. The Partnership can develop wrapper buildings…hybrids.”

“If the Partnership is badly managed, it will be a disaster. It must create its own independent board and it must be subject to all sunshine laws. It reports to the municipalities once per year. It defines its own goals. It decides what it does. There are 27 such organizations in New Jersey, in Rahway, Cranford, Red Bank and Morristown. The government is in place to do the work that the private sector won’t and can’t do. We in government are drawing the line saying ‘We provide the bare minimum.’ If we want to pull together to preserve and develop our local economy, we have to create a new alliance! We need to find a new way to invest together. There are many very competent individuals in Princeton who can help. The Partnership can address things as small as flower pots and benches to things as large as transit systems and parking structures.”

Shari Powell, the Princeton Education Foundation: “We have found that this community is very generous when it is asked to pull together in support of something like this.”

Peter Kann: “One of the virtues of a SID, it seems to me, is its simplicity. It includes the majority of the important groups in town. It provides a way for them to work together to solve problems. The funding is not a tax. It would include support from the non-profits. Especially the University with its frontage on Nassau St. Is that true?”

Kevin Wilkes: “You are correct. To authorize the Partnership requires a vote of Boro Council and there needs to be a strategy to create the founding group.”

Pam Hersh: “You outlined very eloquently the advantages. There needs to be a leader. There needs to be political will. We had Joe O’Neill leading us on the Monument and Marvin Reed on the Plaza. All of these projects take political will.”

Kevin Wilkes: “I see great improvement in the ability of the Boro and the Township to work together. I see great leadership capacity. I see great ability to collaborate.”

Ryan Lilienthal: “Parking authority resides with the government, right?”

Kevin Wilkes: “Until the government turns it over.’

Rick Weiss: “6 years ago we had many conversations about how we, all of us in the business community, could all work together in the morning sessions Princeton Future held. This is a very good idea. This will work! One difficulty was that Palmer Square didn’t support our effort. Will they now?”

Kevin W: We all are very collaborative. We can have a different assessment rate for them. And, we could even say to them, ‘You do so much of this work so well, why don’t you expand your services to the rest of the town!”

Raoul Momo: “They are interested in marketing.”

Allan Kehrt: “Isn’t there a philosophical underpinning that has to come first? There has to be a purpose.”

Peter Kann: “In establishing a SID, the municipality would outline and approve a budget.”

Kevin Wilkes: “We are faced with 2 crises: the economic crisis and a development crisis. [Right now, there can be no development in town because it is restricted]. The best way to avoid raising taxes is to plan the growth we want. We can make plans the way Princeton Future does…by listening to the residents of the community.”

Anton Lahnston: “Do you a sense how long it takes?”

Kevin W: “We need to adapt to local needs…physical beautification…planning strategies.”

Sandra Persichetti: “Does this help consolidation? I can see great advantages for it to go down Harrison St to the Shopping Center.”

Kevin W: “Yes. This is a pilot for consolidation. A place where we can ‘play nicely with each other’. We need to show the business and commercial community that we can work together to make their businesses grow and prosper. We need to show the citizens that the Partnership can work for them.”

Pam Hersh: “All this breaks down to when the time comes and you send out the first assessments, are there enough benefits for every $1 put into it. Here is a chance to target dollars to a neighborhood.”

Peter Kann: “It is not optional. What is the next step?”

Kevin W: “We need to develop 3 budgets, I think. One small one at about $100,000. One at $500,000. And one at $1,000,000. We need get everyone to embrace the idea!”

Paul Fitzhenry, Tyco: “This is the kind of thing we need. We have 500 employees. We have meetings in downtown Princeton. We live here. We work here. We want Princeton to become the kind of place where we can bring our clients in from around the world for 2-3 day meetings. While they are here, we need to know that they can enjoy themselves walking around and dining in the downtown. Every minute our employees spend on the road, stuck in traffic on their to and from work, is a waste. We need to work in partnership with all of you. This is a good idea.”