Arts & Entertainment

New Brunswick Expects $40 million from State for Cultural Center Redevelopment

Could this be what New Brunswick's downtown cultural district will look like in the future? Credits: Cultural Center Redevelopment Plan

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — As plans to redevelop the city’s downtown arts and theater district move forward, New Brunswick officials have said they expect the project to receive $40 million in state funding and tax credits.

The announcement came during last week’s City Council meeting, when the panel adopted the 65-page redevelopment plan, paving the way for the construction of mixed-use high- and mid-rise buildings on 82,400 square feet of land off Livingston Avenue and next to City hall.

A public-private partnership will fuel the project, which may yield the city’s tallest building yet. It also calls for the construction of new performance spaces for both the George Street Playhouse and the Crossroads Theatre.

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“We think it’s going to be a shining star for the city,” said Glenn Patterson, the city’s director of planning, community and economic development.

Councilman Kevin Egan said the redevelopment initiative stood to attract “millions” from the state Economic Development Authority, an entity that often provides money for such projects. New Brunswick spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw then said state funding and tax credits could reach as much as $40 million.

A spokesperson for the state authority said an application for the cultural center project had been filed under the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program. But she declined to confirm the $40 million figure.

“It is a longstanding EDA policy not to comment on an application prior to board action,” the spokesperson, Kelly Dombrowski, said via email.

Middlesex County also plans to offer funding, but that dollar amount is unclear.

The New Brunswick Development Corporation, or Devco, has agreed to “assist” the New Brunswick Cultural Center in conceiving, developing and financing the project. But its scope and whether other developers will team up with Devco remain to be seen.

The redevelopment plan requires the construction of 150 apartments and allows office space, educational facilities, art galleries and the new theater spaces.

The George Street Playhouse and the Crossroads Theatre don’t plan to go dark during the estimated two years that it will take to complete construction. City officials said they are looking for temporary homes in and near New Brunswick.

“We’re finalizing our plans for where we’ll be performing while construction is happening,” said Kelly Ryman, the Playhouse’s managing director. “We’re very excited about the whole project. This is a dream come true of the George Street Playhouse.”

Ryman said she expects to stay in the Hub City during construction. She declined to say exactly where the theater might relocate.

“Crossroads intends to continue its longstanding tradition as the nation's premier African American theater company and we look forward to remaining an important part of the New Brunswick arts community for many years to come,” Producing Artistic Director Marshall Jones III said in a statement. “I’m optimistic that this will be a great opportunity for us along with our partner arts organizations in the city to continue doing what we do best in a new arts center that meets the needs of our diverse audiences and artists.”

The theaters have turned toward Rutgers University and other “entities in town” for potential solutions, Patterson told the City Council. One possibility includes the former site of the Agricultural Museum of New Jersey, on Rutgers’ Cook Campus in North Brunswick, he said.

A resident who spoke during last week’s meeting said he worried about the consequences of possibly pushing a theater outside the city and what might happen if construction were to take longer than anticipated.

“There are no guarantees in life,” Patterson said. “But failure to move because of a possibility that something might go wrong means you never make progress.”

For the redevelopment project to move forward, the city’s housing authority must next approve preliminary conceptual plans. An application will eventually be subject to site plan approval and variance review by the Planning Board.

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