Princeton campus remains unsold a year after two lawsuit dismissals

By Sarah Siock

Over a year after the New Jersey Superior Court granted Rider’s motion to dismiss two lawsuits that challenged the university’s decision to move Westminster Choir College (WCC) to the Lawrenceville campus, WCC’s Princeton campus remains unsold while students and alumni work to appeal the court’s ruling.

The lawsuits, one comprised of faculty, alumni and donors to the college and the other filed by current students, sought to block the relocation of WCC. Both suits were dismissed in March 2020 and an attorney from the Westminster Foundation, which is a group made up of alumni and faculty working to stop the sale or movement of the school, filed the appeals on behalf of the alumni and student plaintiffs in October 2020.

“My only comment on the court’s decision is that we do not agree with it. The lawsuits will remain in place and we will continue to rigorously pursue all legal options available to us,” said Constance Fee, president of the Westminster Foundation.

Fee said the foundation delivered all requested documents to the appeals court and is now awaiting a court date for oral arguments to be heard.

Rider’s Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel Mark Solomon said the university believes the court made the “correct decision” to dismiss the lawsuits. However, Rider still faces a pending lawsuit that was filed by the Princeton Theological Seminary, stating it has beneficiary rights to the Princeton campus.

Solomon disputed this claim and said, “We believe the Seminary’s claims, made 27 years after it signed a contract which it now seeks to violate, are without merit. Having declined in 1991 to become responsible for WCC when WCC was on the verge of closure, the Seminary transferred its interest in the property to allow WCC to merge with Rider, with Rider assuming the costs of operating WCC. Rider has fulfilled all its obligations as part of the transaction, the Seminary has not.”

While the lawsuits continue in court, the Princeton campus remains empty without a buyer, according to Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo.

Dell’Omo said, “As a result of a substantial investment of time and money, and with the intention to revitalize WCC and to create new synergies within the Westminster College of the Arts, and Rider as a whole, the University relocated much of WCC to the Lawrenceville campus over summer 2020.”

Dell’Omo added that Rider has not been actively marketing the Princeton property, but the university has had potential buyers make inquiries into the land.

Once Rider begins to market the property, it plans to retain a small portion of the campus, primarily for the retention of the WCC Conservatory.

“This plan, however, may be adjusted based on the needs of a potential buyer. The amount of property being sold and the marketplace will ultimately determine any sale price,” said Dell’Omo.

As the university battles financial troubles because of underlying issues that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the proceeds from a sale of the land could prove useful. In the past, Dell’Omo has said that he hopes the money from any potential sale could help offset the cost of consolidating WCC students to Lawrenceville.

As WCC students continue to adjust to life at the Lawrenceville campus, Dell’Omo said the university is continuing to build “on that first step of success.”

“Our plan throughout this process has been for Rider to continue building a world-class Westminster College of the Arts, with a thriving WCC as an integral part of this initiative,” said Dell’Omo.

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