By Joshua Zinder
To say that Princeton has a lot of cachet is an understatement. Between the brain trust, Princeton University, a lively, diverse, and second-to-none business community, and our famously temperate local economy able to weather any kind of financial storm, it should surprise no one that businesses want a Princeton address so badly.
The challenge we face is where to put new and growing businesses that want to be part of our Princeton community. There are so many great companies and workers looking to call Princeton home, but only so much space to put them into.
This is exactly what the Princeton Merchants Association, the fastest-growing business community in the region, wants to figure out — how to open Princeton’s doors to vibrant, growing businesses and still maintain all the magic and cachet that comes with the Princeton name.
The PMA will host a panel on May 26 that features some of our best local minds from a broad spectrum of businesses that keep Princeton so alive and exciting. I’m privileged to be part of this panel that will feature Princeton Zoning Officer Derek Bridger; David Newton of Palmer Square Management; Jodie McLean, president and chief investment officer of EDENS (which manages Princeton Shopping Center); Jack Morrison, owner of JM Restaurant Group (which owns Nassau Street Seafood & Produce Co., the Witherspoon Grill, and Blue Point Grill); Jud Henderson of Henderson Sotheby’s International Real Estate; and Peter Dodds, principal of Morford & Dodds Realty.
Together, we will talk about the challenges we face in keeping Princeton moving forward as the city grows along with the businesses that call it home, as well as the energy that makes Princeton such a draw for companies that want to share our fantastic home. As an architect, I’ve had the distinct advantage of a front-row seat to how the Princeton market has grown these past few years. Architects are, after all, a frontline barometer of how what’s going on. We see the plans for new buildings and what companies want to do as their businesses move and grow.
The market in Princeton is currently very active. We are seeing a lot of new tenants coming to Princeton in the retail, hospitality, and corporate sectors. At the beginning of the recession in 2008, architecture had to contend with almost 20 percent unemployment, even in Princeton, where not even major economic troubles can derail the local economy. Today the architecture industry is seeing a resurgence which has allowed firms such as our own to grow to more than 15 people. Because of this, we are actively looking for talented individuals to allow us to continue to grow and design the future.
This is a snapshot of what’s happening so frequently these days ‒‒ companies are not just moving, they’re moving up. They’re growing and providing more jobs, and bringing so many benefits to Princeton. But, as I said, the challenge is to figure out how to meet the needs of so many dynamic companies that would continue to grow Princeton’s cachet.
Our commercial office market, after a few slow years not long ago, is filling up fast. Smaller office spaces, around the 200-square-foot range, are largely unavailable; occupied by many companies that will soon be moving up as they add employees and grow into tomorrow’s powerhouses. At the other end of the spectrum, large, contiguous space in the 6,000-to-8,000-square-foot range — which would ideally fit some of our larger and more prominent business residents — simply doesn’t exist in downtown Princeton. For larger spaces we are seeing continued growth in the Route one corridor.
The PMA is uniquely poised to usher Princeton into a continuing bright tomorrow. Admittedly, we’ve got a lot to work with. Princeton, after all, is the gold standard for the region, and towns all around us look to our example of how to develop a pulsing, thriving business community. And even if we have a major advantage that other towns don’t — the university and its high-wattage appeal and name recognition all over the world — we like to think our example of finding the right blend of businesses and fostering the interconnectedness of those in our business community is the optimum path to follow.
I’m thrilled to be a new PMA board member at a time when our organization’s growth is mirroring that of the Princeton community. When the PMA revitalized its mission in 2010 to be the leader in Princeton’s future, our organization had maybe 25 members. Now, in the unified Princeton, we have almost 140 members, and that number is sure to keep growing as more members of our business community feel the energy of what’s happening here.
My outlook is clearly an optimistic one and so I believe tomorrow looks even more vibrant than today. The PMA is working hard to create connections within our community between businesses and residences and I would encourage people to join me at future PMA events to learn about and contribute to Princeton’s future.
Joshua Zinder is founder and principal of Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design, and a member of the PMA board. The Hometown Princeton column is provided monthly by the PMA. On the web: princetonmerchants.org.