Princeton Forrestal Village seems to have nine lives. Since opening in the late 1980s, the village has transformed from a high-end retail center, to an outlet mall, then office park. Today, under the partnership of InvestCorp Real Estate and Lincoln Equities Group and overseen by Linque Management Company, Princeton Forrestal Village is a true mixed-use environment offering a variety of spaces designed and zoned for medical, office, and retail businesses.

How has the center been able to reposition itself, and what’s made Princeton Forrestal Village’s latest iteration a success? KSS Architects of Princeton has played a key role in helping shape the village’s current make-up and future direction. As the designer of the village’s master plan in 2005 and more recently a partner in bringing new uses into the village — such as the Eden Institute and suites for medical offices — KSS has had a front row seat to the village’s transformation. The one big lesson we’ve learned: If you’ve got a big idea, stick with it.

How it came to be. Princeton Forrestal Village broke ground in 1986 on land leased from Princeton University in Plainsboro Township at the intersection of Route 1 and College Road. Designed by Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass. and Bower Lewis Thrower/Architects of Philadelphia, and developed and managed by the Toombs Development Company of New Canaan, Conn., the village concept was ahead of its time.

“We want to create a retail mix that will not just bring people in every few weeks like the regional malls do,” W. Scott Toombs, the principal of Toombs Development, told the New York Times in 1987. “We also want the kinds of shops, services, and restaurants that draw people every day, like the main street of a village or small town would.”

Princeton Forrestal Village’s original vision embraced the idea of combining a vibrant mix of uses — retail, office, and residential — to create a true village, where one could live, work, and shop. When it opened, the village boasted nightclubs, several restaurants, a 300-room Marriott hotel, an indoor food court, and a range of high-end, upscale retail stores all arranged in an open-air Main Street-style setting.

The compromise. Faced with challenging economic conditions and stiff competition from downtown Princeton, Quakerbridge Mall, and other shopping venues along Route 1, Princeton Forrestal Village adjusted and adapted over time. But as the center evolved, it compromised its farsighted “village” vision, becoming just another mall or office park.

In the late ‘90s, outlet stores replaced the upscale retailers. In 2003, the center’s then owners, the Praedium Group, sold Princeton Forrestal Village to the Gale Company. KSS Architects teamed up with the Gale Company to draft a new master plan for the village that focused on bringing back “the big idea” by relocating the food court, expanding spaces, and creating new opportunity for restaurants along Route 1 and other elements that would bring a community vibe back to the village.

With KSS’ master plan in-hand, Princeton Forrestal Village’s new owners — InvestCorp Real Estate and Lincoln Equities Group — are re-examining who the village serves and bringing a refreshed mix of uses to the complex.

Re-engaging the big idea. By looking carefully at what wasn’t executed the first time around at Princeton Forrestal Village, KSS’ master plan provides key strategies to create a true mix of uses that reach their surroundings, both literally and figuratively. To bridge the village’s sea of parking and engage the community the plan took a new look at the periphery of the village and outlined three restaurant pads along Route 1 and College Road, along with space for childcare and educational facilities and eventually residential.

Since the plan’s adoption, restaurants like Salk Creek Grille and Ruth’s Chris Steak House have come to the village, activating the view from Route 1. In addition, the Harmony School — a pre-kindergarten, preschool and daycare for 160 children ages 6 months to 6 years — moved into a new, larger home on the periphery of the village, and the Eden Institute, which serves the needs of the children, young adults, and families affected by autism, reused and expanded the Harmony School’s former facility to create a new home for its inspirational programs.

Such educational uses have breathed new life into the village, providing daily traffic to the center and new connections with other community groups and organizations. As Tom McCool, president and CEO of the Eden Family of Services, told Princeton Magazine recently, he has heartened by the welcome Eden’s received from others in the center.

“We’ve been asked by people here at Forrestal Village to teach them about autism,” he said in the magazine’s March issue. “The Plainsboro Fire Department has shown a lot of interest. And places like BMW of Princeton have said they want to learn how to be autism-friendly.”

Positioned for future success. By going back to the big idea and seeing the big picture, Princeton Forrestal Village is now better positioned to compete. In addition to new space for restaurants and education, the village has begun to transition with additional medical office space.

Capitalizing on the pending opening of the University Medical Center of Princeton’s new hospital in Plainsboro, the village has seen “tremendous success” in attracting both the Urology Group of Princeton, and Surgical Specialists of Princeton, according to David Knights, marketing head of Princeton Forrestal Center, which includes Forrestal Village. Premier Sports Medicine and the Princeton Longevity Center are also located in the village.

With a unique founding concept, a re-energized plan for success, and new leaders willing stick by a big idea, Princeton Forrestal Village’s transformation is giving the center a positive outlook for the future.

Edmund Klimek, AIA, is a partner at KSS Architects LLP of Princeton and Philadelphia.

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