How Palmer Square Meshed Yesterday With Today
While Philadelphia and New York City have been attracting New Jersey’s Millennials, Princeton—equidistant from both cities—is having its time in the sun again. “People are beginning to rediscover the quality of life we have right here,” says Palmer Square Management VP David Newton, who’s been watching its rise since joining the ongoing Palmer Square mixed-use development in 1995.
This renewed interest is particularly benefiting the nearly 80-year-old Palmer Square, which is built around (you guessed it) a square across from Princeton University’s main gate. “A lot of people want to live where they work and play,” notes David, snapped above with Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners’ Greg Mardirossian, whose firm has been the development’s architect of record since 2005.
Today, the development—which opened in 1937 and was first conceived in 1906 by Edgar Palmer, heir to the New Jersey Zinc Co and a 1903 Princeton grad—boasts 150k SF of Class-A office space, 110k SF of retail, 228 residential units over 1,000 parking spaces in two garages, and the 188-room historic Nassau Inn.
All have strong demand, with the retail, office and residential space always above 90% leased, David says. (In the 1930s, it was probably the third-greatest infill lifestyle center after Country Club Plaza in Kansas City and Suburban Square in Ardmore, PA, he adds.)
There are currently 45 office tenants and 45 retailers, which have transformed Palmer Square from classic to hip and upscale. A little over a week ago, Pure Barre opened its latest fitness studio at the development; Club Monaco will soon open, and PSM has a letter of intent out with an upscale shoe store. (They’ll join names like Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, Urban Outfitters, Barbour, Lululemon, bluemercury, Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and Talbots, as well as many unique regional and local tenants.)
A quarter of that retail is restaurants and specialty food stores, and David said the focus will be on bringing in more women’s specialties to the few vacancies.
The retail has been particularly successful, with $550/SF sales for the retailers and over $1k/SF for certain categories, including food. The component benefits from the local, visitor and office worker population, who also attend Palmer Square’s four large events during the year: September’s JazzFeast (8,000 attendees), Black Friday’s tree lighting ceremony (6,000 attendees), Girls Night Out (1,000 attendees) and the Summer Block Party (2,000 attendees). There's also the local Communiversity ArtsFest (40,000 attendees) in which Palmer Square participates.
The 188-room Nassau Inn—above, which was built in 1756 and hosted legends such as Paul Revere, Robert Morris, Thomas Paine, the signers of the Declaration of Independence and members of the Continental Congress—also underwent a rejuvenation over the past few years.
What was once 203 quaint guest rooms now has fully modernized rooms and suites, 14 meeting and social rooms, and a completely redesigned ballroom, as well as wireless Internet, A/V systems, refreshed public spaces, and the Yankee Doodle Taproom outdoor patio.
What many people are finding is that city living, on one level, has its benefits, but a lot of things don’t work well for them, David notes. He says Princeton has a hybrid approach—you have the downtown city life, but also have flowers, trees, pleasant architecture, golf courses and many other outdoor activities. Princeton also has a self-contained cultural base, which gives it a unique urban flavor, he says.
“It’s not a one-horse town," David says. "Many people think of it just for the university, but we’ve got strong energy, financial and pharmaceutical industries acting as magnets for jobs—names like Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Janssen Pharmaceutical, BlackRock, NRG and Dow Jones."
Edgar Palmer and original architect Thomas Stapleton thought ahead as to how Palmer Square could ultimately grow and expand, noted Greg, making it easier for its current landlords.
It has been like putting together a puzzle—for instance, when his firm designed the Residences at Palmer Square (above, the 52 rentals and 48 for-sale units that were completed in 2013), it easily fit in with plans for a garage conceived 30 years ago. The design is also timeless, allowing Minno & Wasko Architects to easily design complementary buildings that are still in line with today’s architectural trends and codes.
While the introduction of the new townhomes and condominium flats at The Residences at Palmer Square represent the completion of Edgar Palmer's 1937 vision, there’s still more work to be done. David notes that there’s still one more development site available, though what will ultimately happen with the site is yet to be decided.
“It’s in a very strong location, but our focus now is strengthening what we have and making sure it continues to age in a graceful and dynamic way,” David says. “It’s a balance between being cutting edge to attract younger people, but still being able to pay homage to where we came from.”