Arts proposal and fundraising at top of Tilghman's agenda

Alternative locations being considered for new arts space on campus will enable the University to provide a "marvelous" home for Princeton's Lewis Center for the Arts, President Shirley M. Tilghman said in a meeting Monday (Feb. 14) afternoon. But the site will not have the benefits to the wider community of the original location at the corner of Alexander Street and University Place, she added.

Tilghman spoke at a meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) in East Pyne. One of the fundamental reasons the CPUC was created in 1970 was to provide a direct means of communication on a regular basis between the president of the University and members of the campus community.

Tilghman used the occasion to address two items on her agenda that she deemed "important to the University going forward." One was the proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood, and the other was the University's $1.75 billion Aspire fundraising campaign.

As part of its Campus Plan, the University proposed to construct three connected buildings encompassing 130,000 square feet as a focal point of the first phase of a new arts complex along the southwest edge of campus. But with a clear indication recently from local officials that they would not support the zoning changes necessary to create the Arts and Transit Neighborhood, Tilghman said she already has met with a team to begin evaluating other locations.

She reminded the faculty, staff and students in attendance of the University's commitment to make the arts a central feature of its academic mission at the undergraduate level, as spelled out in the January 2006 President's Report on the Creative and Performing Arts at Princeton. In order to offer arts programs to all students -- not only those with a deep commitment to the arts -- the University requires more space than is available at the Lewis Center's current home at 185 Nassau St.

"After a lot of consideration, we decided that the optimal place was at the corner of Alexander and University Place," Tilghman said. Reasons included opportunities for creating synergies with the nearby McCarter Theatre and Berlind Theatre; for making the Lewis Center, at an edge of campus rather than in the center, a part of the larger community; and for bringing the Graduate College and Forbes College into closer proximity with that side of campus.

"That neighborhood, redeveloped in a welcoming way for the arts, seemed like the right decision," Tilghman said. "To this moment, I believe it is the best strategic decision for the University."

After many studies by architects and planners, the University determined that the New Jersey Transit "Dinky" commuter station would need to move 460 feet south, she said. The relocation would allow the University to improve the surrounding area, including enhancing traffic circulation and creating a new station with a heated and air-conditioned waiting room, public restrooms and a new Wawa.

After being in discussions with local officials for four years, the University decided it had to "call the question," Tilghman said. "We simply could not allow this project to live in what felt increasingly like limbo."

At a joint meeting of the Princeton Borough Council and the Princeton Township Committee on Jan. 31, the University asked if members were prepared to go ahead with the rezoning needed to construct the building.

"We got a very clear sense that they were not prepared to move forward and give us the zoning," she said.

So the University decided to move ahead with choosing another site. Multiple locations are under consideration, she said.

"Wherever this ends up being placed, it will be a marvelous project, and it will allow the Lewis Center to realize its potential every bit as much as the current project," she said, although "it will not have the benefits to the community in the way that this [earlier] project we had designed."

Tilghman said that since the meeting the University has been asked by leaders of both the borough and the township about reopening the discussion about the original plan. She said the University is willing to talk, but only within a narrow window of time. In response to a question, she said the window was between 45 and 60 days.

Tilghman said the University has made it clear that reconsidering moving the Dinky station "is off the table." The University will not build in the current location if the Dinky station remains where it is. "That's not negotiable," she said.

Funding a commitment to excellence

Turning to the Aspire campaign, Tilghman said that the University has raised $1.35 billion in three and a half years. She credited the large number of volunteers and donors who have participated in the campaign so far.

That leaves $400 million to be raised in the next one and a half years -- not an easy task, considering the recent economic downturn, she said.

"The hill that we had set for ourselves to climb got much steeper as the events of late 2008 and into 2009 hit the University," Tilghman said.

In her remarks, she focused on what the campaign already has accomplished, including:

• the construction of Roberts Stadium and Myslik Field for soccer, used last spring for the U.S. team for training before the World Cup.

• the advancement of the arts and establishment of the Lewis Center for the Arts, funded by a $101 million gift from 1955 alumnus Peter Lewis.

• the preparation of students to be leaders in an increasingly complex and technology-driven society through the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, funded by a $20 million gift from 1963 alumnus Dennis Keller and his wife, Constance.

• the progress in plans for the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, established by a $100 million gift from 1952 alumnus Gerhard R. (Gerry) Andlinger.

• the Bridge Year Program, which allows newly admitted undergraduates the opportunity to defer enrollment and spend a year abroad, with University support, in service to a community.

• increased support for financial aid and graduate fellowships for students.

• enhancement of Princeton's stature in the natural sciences, particularly with support for the undergraduate and graduate programs in neuroscience and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

"All of these are evidence of why universities have campaigns," Tilghman said. "A university that stands still is a university that's falling behind. We need to be at the forefront of the generation of new knowledge, of improving the quality of our teaching, and the only way we can do that is by pushing ourselves all the time to be committed to excellence."