NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — It’s official.
The New Brunswick Development Corporation, better known as Devco, has been tapped to lead the downtown, mixed-use Cultural Center redevelopment project that may sprout the city’s tallest building. Doing business under the name of a subsidiary, Devco got the go-ahead last night, Feb. 22, from the housing authority board, which oversees redevelopment in the city.
Tentative plans call for the demolition of the Crossroads Theatre and George Street Playhouse, both on Livingston Avenue, and the construction of a sprawling glass tower with two theaters, nine rehearsal spaces and 250 apartments. Redevelopers also hope to build a 343-space parking deck on a Bayard Street lot that abuts the site.
“Our arts district attracts over 300,000 people a year, from school-aged children to people who travel from New York City or Philadelphia to see a world-class show. It’s a very big part of our economy,” Christopher Paladino, Devco’s president, told the authority’s Board of Commissioners. “This project enhances that.”
Devco had been involved with the project for some time. But it officially landed the job in the Housing Authority’s Van Dyke Avenue meeting room, its blue and yellow walls and modest decor decidedly different from the ambitious plans for the Cultural Center’s sleek high-rise tower, in which a two-bedroom apartment might cost $2,800 per month.
The assembled crowd was a who’s-who of New Brunswick power brokers. Near Devco’s top brass sat its attorney, John Hoffman, along with Middlesex County’s counsel, the city’s planning director and the head of the New Brunswick Parking Authority, among others.
The project itself has commanded plenty of institutional muscle. State lawmakers have passed a bill earmarking $40 million in tax credits and funding, the county is expected to put forth $6 million and, in a separate meeting last night, the parking authority voted to submit an application for $23 million in financing from the state Local Finance Board.
In total, the 528,000-square-foot project will cost roughly $215 million, Paladino has said.
The rest of the funding will come from equity from the nonprofit Cultural Center, which owns the property, money from tenants, bonds and contributions from other developers who might team up with Devco.
Work is expected to begin in April, shortly after the curtains close on the Crossroads’ final show of the season. The demolition will spread to the George Street Playhouse in early June, according to Devco.
The theater companies are eyeing temporary homes for the next two years. Paladino said Crossroads may perform in a number of places, while George Street is considering one central base.
Officials plan to complete construction in July 2019, a deadline necessary to receive state financial support.
At that time, the American Repertory Ballet will move its professional company to the new building, Paladino said.
The extra space will allow for additional shows, drawing anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 more people to the area each year, he said.
“It’s an exciting project,” he added.
Studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom luxury apartments will consume much of the building. Twenty percent of those units will be designated affordable.
When asked by a commissioner if New Brunswick is building too many rental units, Paladino said demand remains strong, especially near the train station.
A resident raised concerns about the parking authority taking on more debt to finance the construction of the parking deck. A parking authority official said earlier that the group is currently $230 million in debt.
Paladino said the garage associated with the Cultural Center project is poised to be a high-earner, as it won’t house many monthly parkers, who are typically less profitable than drivers in town for the evening.
Hoffman, Devco’s attorney, said his client will likely return before the housing authority board with a redevelopment agreement in the next couple of months. At that time, a second redeveloper may sign on to the project.
Devco must also seek site plan approval from the city.