Tuesday: Historic Preservation Commission to Review Madison Movie Theater Concept Plans

A 3D rendering show how the front of the theater would look from the street if borough officials approve Saxum's concept plans. Credits: Saxum Real Estate
Ground-floor blueprints show plans for two movie theaters, a pair of retail spaces and a residential entrance that would lead to the upper-floor apartments. Credits: Saxum Real Estate
The rear of the theater if plans are approved. Credits: Saxum Real Estate
Plans for the western side of the theater. Credits: Saxum Real Estate

MADISON, NJ – Potential concepts for the redevelopment of Madison’s historic movie theater are up for discussion again, this time on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. during a regular meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission inside Hartley Dodge Memorial Building council chambers at 50 Kings Road. 

Current blueprints map out a four-story building with space for two retail shops and a pair of movie theaters on the ground level. Residential space would be included on the upper levels. 

Because the theater is a designated historic building, the Historic Preservation Commission must approve any redevelopment plans before construction can begin. The Planning Board must also review potential concepts before any permit applications are approved for this project.

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Developed by property owner Saxum Real Estate, the concepts were originally presented at a Dec. 19 joint meeting of the Planning Board and Historic Preservation Commission. At least 100 area residents attended to speak their piece about these plans. 

Though Saxum attorney Peter Wolfson said “this project is the epitome of a transit-oriented, mixed-use development,” Planning Board and Historic Preservation members said they felt the building looked too modern and did not mimic the historic feel of Madison’s downtown business district. 

Madison resident Sandy Kolakowski—who petitioned the borough this summer to save the decades-old cinema building with former Mayor Woody Kerkeslager—said she felt Saxum did try to acknowledge resident requests by including space for two theaters, but said she had serious issues with their size.

The new design is a “half-hearted attempt to address our overwhelming requests to keep the movie theater by knocking in two small rooms in the back that no movie operator will be able to work with and extending that as an olive branch,” she said at the Dec. 19 joint meeting. 

“I hope my fellow residents won’t be fooled by it because it’s just a stick—olives and leaves aren’t included.”

Several other area residents who spoke at the December meeting called the project is “a monstrosity” that “sticks out like a sore thumb” and “looks like a Brooklyn warehouse.”

Madison’s 93-year-old movie theater at 14 Lincoln Place was sold last year to Saxum Real Estate. Saxum said the Lincoln Place building would still show movies once the purchase was complete. 

But Bow Tie Cinemas, the theater’s most recent operator, had other plans. The company terminated its lease with Saxum last spring, and the theater closed on Memorial Day Weekend. 

Current Saxum plans call for the demolition of the current structure, which Saxum project architect Jeff Gertler said has a cracked foundation and contains mold and asbestos. Rebuilding the theater is the only way to go, he said.

“This is an old, decayed, decrepit building that you would not want to build on top of,” Gertler said at in December. 

The new building is “a building of its age,” he said. “The goal was to invigorate the downtown...not to make it just like the old building.”

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