Redevelopment

Planning Board Approves Ambitious Plans for New Brunswick Cultural Center Redevelopment

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Devco's president, Christopher Paladino, reviews a rendering of New Brunswick's performing arts center this week in City Hall.
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The city’s downtown performing arts center is one step closer to becoming reality.

The Planning Board approved the proposal for a mixed-use tower off Livingston Avenue and a corresponding Bayard Street parking deck at its meeting this week. While the New Brunswick Development Corporation, or Devco, has scaled down the scope of the project, officials believe it will ignite New Brunswick’s arts and theater scene, boosting business in the area.

“This is the most significant, broad-spectrum public-private partnership in the history of New Jersey,” Christopher Paladino, Devco’s president, said. “It may be the most important civic space ever built in the City of New Brunswick.”

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Plans call for a 22-story building featuring 71,000 square feet of theater and rehearsal pace, 31,000 square feet of office space and 220,000 square feet—or 18 floors—of rental apartments priced at affordable and market rates, according to a document provided by Devco. A 344-space parking garage, which will include a street-level, windowed ballet rehearsal space, and additional on-site stalls are also slated to take root in the area.

The budget for the project totals $167.8 million, according to Devco.

The sleek, glass-windowed tower would house the George Street Playhouse and the Crossroads Theatre. Their current buildings, which sit on proposed building’s footprint, are scheduled to be demolished over the next few months.

It’d also bring the American Repertory Ballet to New Brunswick. What’s more, Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts is set to occupy a portion of the building following a $17 million commitment from the university.

Earlier plans for the performing arts center aimed for 25 stories, nearly 270 apartments and a $215 million budget. Paladino said his team downsized its vision due to functional and economic reasons.

“We feel it works better,” he said.

But the project calls for two “state-of-the-art” theaters with orchestra pits and rehearsal and studios, which the developer and its representatives said would compete with those on Broadway in New York City. Together, the theaters would include a total of roughly 700 seats, or 200 more than what currently exists, according to Devco.

Officials hope the extra room will enable another 220 performances per year. That, they said, could draw an additional 80,000 people to New Brunswick.

The two theaters would share a lobby, which would serve food and drinks.

“The intent is to bring people together,” architect David Manfredi said on behalf of Devco.

The residential portion of the building, meanwhile, would include 42 affordable units. Rents for them would range between $550 and $1,400, said Richard Barnhart, CEO of Pennrose, the property-management firm that would handle the apartments.

Project leaders said they hope to partner with the Actors Fund of America to ensure local artists, performers and support staffers take advantage of the affordable units.

Parking for the project exceeds the minimum amount required by city code, according to Devco’s experts. Two residents said the developer should reconsider adding so many spaces, a point that Planning Board members appreciated but isn’t often heard in New Brunswick.

A number of residents spoke during the meeting. Some praised Devco, the city and their many partners for their dedication to the arts in New Brunswick. But others expressed concerns about how the building will fit into the neighborhood.

They cited possible increases to traffic and winds, along with the potential for disturbing signage or lighting. Paladino and his team assured residents the project wouldn’t negatively affect its neighbors, although some residents remained skeptical.

“It’s a huge building,” a man named Patrick Clark said. “I’m not confident it’s compatible with surrounding land uses.”

Construction on the project is set to begin this summer and end in July 2019.

The project is expected to be financed through a number of means, including millions of dollars in tax credits from the state Economic Development Authority.

It has drawn attention from media and officials across New Jersey.

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