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20 Nassau Street sold to college-town hotel chain

<p>As part of the festival, 20 Nassau Street will host “Prescription Vegetable?” that will explore food as an entry point for human connection.</p>
<h6>Photo Credit: Zachary Shevin / The Daily Princetonian</h6>

As part of the festival, 20 Nassau Street will host “Prescription Vegetable?” that will explore food as an entry point for human connection.

Photo Credit: Zachary Shevin / The Daily Princetonian

According to public records, the office and retail building at 20 Nassau Street — home to over 100 small businesses, including Nassau Barbers and Jammin’ Crêpes — will be sold to Graduate Hotels, a college-town hotel chain.

Notice of settlement forms, which indicate that a property is to be sold imminently, were signed and submitted to the county clerk’s office on Oct. 23. These forms list the buyer as GPNJ Owner LLC, with attention to Benjamin Weprin, the founder of Graduate Hotels’ parent company, AJ Capital Partners. The sale would displace an array of local professionals and small businesses, affecting locals and University students who frequent the 70,000 square foot building.

 According to its website, 20 Nassau Street, built in 1918, once served as a dormitory for University students.

Planet Princeton previously reported that the building’s tenants were told that there would be “no sale” as recently as Oct. 29. The Daily Princetonian reached out to the building’s property management office for more information, but the office declined to comment.

A representative of Milk & Cookies, a popular cookie shop based in 20 Nassau Street, told the ‘Prince’ that she was aware of “rumors” surrounding the sale, but was not officially informed of it until Friday, Nov. 1. 

“They’re having a meeting on Monday with the new owners,” she said, “and hopefully I’ll find out then.”

Graduate Hotels currently operates in 25 U.S. cities, including New Haven, Conn., and Providence, R.I. — the homes of Yale and Brown Universities, respectively. The company’s website lists eight additional hotel branches to be built in 2020, including a location in Cambridge, Mass. — the home of Harvard University. Princeton is not among those named.

Weprin expressed interest in opening a hotel in Princeton as early as 2016. In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, he identified the Nassau Inn, located at 10 Palmer Square, as the hotel he “really want[ed] to buy,” noting that he had “emailed the guy [presumably the owner of the Nassau Inn] a thousand times.”

“The town of Princeton is what we look for in a Graduate location in terms of charm and character,” Weprin told the Journal.

Currently, 20 Nassau Street houses many healthcare professionals, including mental health specialists, some of whom University students turn to for private counseling. Multiple students shared concerns that the loss of these counselors could pose a problem for students whose needs are not fulfilled by the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS).

Maria Russo ’22 noted that resources at CPS might not be sufficient for every student, as high-quality mental health care often depends on a positive therapist-patient relationship, which may be difficult to find within the University’s system. 

“It’s very important to ‘click’ with your counselor,” Russo said. “I’ve gone to therapists before back home and unless you really connect with them, it’s hard to trust them — it’s hard to be totally open with them. You could go through, like, five, six therapists before finding someone [who] you click with. So it could be hard for someone to find someone at CPS specifically.”

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One business owner told Planet Princeton that many of their clients are University students, and that they are “not sure where” they would go if forced to leave 20 Nassau Street.

Beyond the issue of mental health, some students also voiced uncertainty about the perceived need for a new hotel at this location. 

Adam Chang ’20 told the ‘Prince’ that he thinks it would be hypocritical of Graduate Hotels to carry out the project.

“I think it’s really funny how this hotel chain, Graduate Hotels, says they try to cultivate and commemorate the spirit of each of the communities in which they operate,” Chang said. “They say that their hotels evoke nostalgia for, you know, years at Princeton, college life… I think they’re going to displace the actual people [who] hold this university together, [who] care for its students and the residents of the town, and they’re going to replace it with a hotel lobby that has some old photos of Princeton and some vintage jerseys.”

“I don’t think that’s life,” Chang added. “I think that’s something you buy from a catalog.”

Graduate Hotels did not respond to a request for comment.