Middlesex County News

Mayor, Devco Unveil Vision for $215 Million Cultural Center Project

Christopher Paladino, president of Devco, speaks on Feb. 7 as a sketch of the proposed cultural center tower flashes behind him.
These are some of the partners working to make the redevelopment project a reality.
New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill sits with Devco President Christopher Paladino on stage at the Crossroads Theatre.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — When the city completes its downtown arts and theater redevelopment project, a 27-story, $215 million tower will likely rise above Livingston Avenue, drawing nearly 40,000 additional people to the city per year, according to local officials.

To clear the path for this vision, demolition work could begin in early April. The 335-foot-tall building, which will house two theaters and 250 residential units, is expected to be completed in July 2019, officials said.

“This will allow for our arts groups to share their offerings with wider audiences than ever before and reinforce New Brunswick and Middlesex County’s standing as a desirable tourism destination and an even more exciting place to be,” Mayor Jim Cahill said this week.

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Cahill and Christopher Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco), outlined the proposal yesterday morning to an audience of local movers and shakers at a breakfast held by the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

On stage in the soon-to-be-demolished Crossroads Theatre, the two men offered the first detailed glimpse of the proposal. It stands to provide new performance and rehearsal spaces for the Crossroads Theatre, the George Street Playhouse and the American Repertory Ballet.

The redevelopment site includes the two theater companies’ current spots on Livingston Avenue, and properties on Bayard Street, which currently house a parking lot and a TD bank.

As part of the plan, New Brunswick intends to strike a number of public-private partnerships to build the mixed-use, high-rise tower and a parking deck, Cahill said.

Middlesex County is expected to put $6 million toward the project. Another $40 million may come from the state through tax credits and funding. Private developers will also sign on to finance the endeavor.

“It’s really going to be a spectacular building,” Paladino told the crowd. “We really do want to create this excitement and energy.”

Plans include one performance space that will seat 485 people and another that will seat roughly 250. That’s an increase from the capacity of both existing theaters, Paladino said.

The arts portion of the building will also include additional rehearsal spaces. The Hub City power brokers said that could open up the actual theaters to host an additional 100 to 150 public showers per year.

Three large, windowed floors will flank the bottom of the structure. Those views may allow passersby to see musicians and actors preparing for upcoming performances.

The tower will also include an orchestra pit, dressing rooms, green rooms, a front office, shops and a sweeping public lobby.

Of the 250 residential units, 20 percent are slated to be deemed affordable housing, Paladino said.

The first floor of apartments will stand above the neighboring Heldrich Hotel and Conference Center, he said.

Amenities may include a gym, a shared commercial kitchen and dining room, conference rooms and work spaces, a rooftop sun deck and the city’s highest pool.

“The New Brunswick Cultural Center redevelopment initiative will transform our existing theater district into a place where the arts may further grow and flourish,” Cahill said. “In no time, we will be welcoming you back here to show off our finished product.”

But these plans are not yet set in stone. The developers will need several approvals before they actually break ground, and details may change along the way.

The redevelopment plan doesn’t affect the nearby State Theatre, officials said. But that company is also eyeing improvements to its facility.

Crossroads and the Playhouse are in the process of finding temporary theater spaces for the upcoming two years.

Cahill and Paladino, whose Devco is assisting the Cultural Center in launching the project, have chipped away at this initiative for 10 years. Roughly nine months ago, Paladino said, they picked up the pace of work.

Both men stressed that this undertaking is part of a larger overhaul of downtown New Brunswick.

They pointed to a number of big-money development projects near the train station, including The Gateway, The Wellness Plaza and work being done at the former site of the Ferren Mall and parking deck.

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