February 16, 1994 (~estimated)
$325,000 high bid on firehouse accepted by Princeton Borough
By Laurie Lynn Strasser
The third time was the charm for the Chambers Street firehouse.
After two failed attempts to auc-tion the 50-year-old building. Princeton Borough Council voted 5-1 Tuesday night to accept the $325,000 high bid made at a third auction last week.
“It seems to be the opinion of all involved that it’s in our best interest to proceed with the sale,” Mayor Marvin Reed said at the Borough Council meeting.
The council’s decision, which requires concurrence from Princeton Township Committee, followed an hour-long closed discussion about the firehouse by the two governing bodies.
Princeton Township is expected to accept the bid Monday night. “We haven’t taken a vote yet, but there’s a consensus, I’m pretty :sure, that we will go along with this,” Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand said Thursday.
Both municipalities have a stake in the transaction, since proceeds will help repay the $2.1 million debt on the new Mercer Engine Co. No. 3 firehouse on Witherspoon Street. The township is responsible for two-thirds of the cost and the borough is responsible for the other third.
Jane Terpstra was the only council member to vote against accepting the bid.
“I was not in favor of selling it from the very beginning,” she said Thursday. “Everyone is talking about how poor the real estate market is. I thought it would be a good idea to lease it to someone, perhaps asking them to make the repairs, keeping it in the public coffers. I’m very reluctant to let public property go. We have a lot of people around town who have been pointing to the Nassau Street School that we sold to Princeton University.”
The high bidder on the firehouse, architect Michael Giardino, said he plans to close the sale by late March. He said he has received “close to a dozen phone calls” from potential tenants.
A Princeton resident since 1981, Mr. Giardino plans to renovate the structure, either as offices, a res-taurant, or a mixed use with offices upstairs and retail downstairs. He said he studied building re-use in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.
“When you’re an architect, you get these visceral feelings about some buildings,” he said. “I look at it as an opportunity to take a very unique structure and turn it into a little jewel downtown. Frankly, I’m probably going to end up entering the thing in an award competition because a creative solution is going to be required.”
The firehouse is structurally sound, but it needs work, Mr. Giardino said, noting that all the systems, including heating, plumbing and wiring, are obsolete for modern use.
Borough Administrator Thomas Shannon estimated that it will cost $1 million “up front” for the buyer to renovate the structure and bring it up to code.
That might not be enough if the firehouse is turned into a restaurant, Mr. Giardino said. Such a use is the remotest possibility for conversion because it would be the most expensive and labor-intensive, he said, even though it probably would generate the most money.
Mr. Giardino, who lives in one of the houses he designed on Governors Lane, also designed the Brooks Bend development in Princeton Township.
He said he has had his eye on the firehouse for a number of years.
“To me it’s going to be a challenging project because of all the code requirements the building has to meet, but I think it’s going to be worth the effort in terms of the results,” he said. “It’s a wonderful little building in a very good location.”