Chambers St. firehouse attracts serious inquiries

23 January, 1990

Chambers St. firehouse attracts serious inquiries

By John P. McAlpin
Staff Writer

With its tantalizing location and spacious interior, the Chambers Street firehouse presents a nearly unlimited menu of possibilities once the trucks roll out for good.

Some people say the firehouse—even with its million-plus price tag — could be easily renovated into a bar and restaurant, making an ideal addition to Princeton’s nightlife.

Its three floors, which the members of the Mercer Engine Co. Number 3 call home, could easily hold a combination of retail and office space, others contend.

A few Princetonians of all ages would like to see the two-story brick structure housing a downtown youth center.

But to all present and future taxpayers, the firehouse represents a choice.

Income from its sale or lease is a limited resource that borough officials now’ have earmarked for the construction of a new firehouse on Witherspoon Street.

To deviate from that plan would mean adding approximately $1.5 million to the local tax burden, officials said.

The fate of the firehouse and other big-ticket spending issues will be discussed at a League of Women Voters community meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Jewish Center of Princeton, 457 Nassau St. Residents will be presented with in-, formation on a number of such choices, including school expansion, the teen center and road improvements, organizers said.

But, while residents will be discussing projects that require spending tax money, borough officials said public funds will not be spent,or seen in the future of the Chambers Street firehouse.

“It’s going to be turned into an income producing property either by sale or by a long-term lease,” said Borough Council President Marvin Reed.

Mr. Reed said he has had a “number of serious inquiries” concerning the sale of the building and Property.

Its proximity to the Chambers Street garage and its interior design make the building attractive to commercial users, Mr. Reed noted.

“There are three very good floors in there. The main level is very high and lends itself to some retail use,” he said.

“The upper floors would make good office space and the basement could make a good restaurant,” Mr. Reed added.

For Councilwoman Lucy Mackenzie, the choice is clear.

“Whatever goes in there, I hope they serve food,” she said.

While visiting her son, Ms. Mackenzie said she happened upon a converted firehouse in Binghamton, N.Y., that had to “beat the customers off with a stick.”

The bottom floor had been converted into a large bar and the upper floors were used as individual dining rooms, she said.

“It was just beautiful,” Ms. Mackenzie added.

But there are those who would not like to see such a prime location turned over to a commercial interest.

“We have been very interested in having a downtown teen center,” said Sandra Gettinger of the Princeton-area Council of Community Services.

Though the Chambers Street location is ideal, the firehouse has not been targeted as the sole site for a youth center, she said.

“As long as it was in the general downtown area, we would take what we could get,” Ms. Gettinger said.

Though the asking price is steep. Ms. Gettinger said that does not entirely preclude the Chambers Street site.

“It’s going to be a sizable price tag in Princeton anyway. Whether we will have to pay one and a half million, I don’t know,” she said.

Ms. Gettinger said it would be ideal if the building were donated.

Borough officials, admitting that the gesture would be noble, have not been receptive to such a contribution.

“We are not going to add more than a million dollars to the tax rolls just so we can give it away,” Ms. Mackenzie said.

There may be other suitable borough properties that do not carry such a heavy price tag, she said.

Donating the pricey property and bearing the full cost of the Witherspoon Street firehouse construction may not be in the best interests of Princeton’s taxpayers, officials said.

“To some extent this is an equity that has been building up over the years,” Mr. Reed said.

“It is most appropriate that the proceeds of this property be dedicated to the increased equity of the new firehouse,” he said.


Staff photo • Pete Borg

Mercer Engine Company No.3 members Ray Wadsworth (left), Fire Chief Eric Karch, Larry Dupraz and Bob Mooney in front of the Chambers Street firehouse


Leave a Reply