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Rutgers Cements $17 Million Role in New Brunswick’s Theater Redevelopment Project

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Could this be what New Brunswick's downtown cultural district will look like in the future? Credits: Cultural Center Redevelopment Plan
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — For months, officials working on the New Brunswick Cultural Center redevelopment project said they were confident that Rutgers University would sign on in some way.

They were right. The university Board of Governors approved last week a resolution to pay $17 million in “membership interest” costs to support the downtown development project, which could result in the city’s tallest tower—a Livingston Avenue building that would feature two theaters, rehearsal spaces, offices and more than 200 rental apartments—and a nearby parking deck.

“It’s such an exciting thing that we are going to be a part of the downtown New Brunswick development-theater-cultural scene,” Dorothy Cantor, who sits on the board, said after the resolution’s approval.

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The site of the proposed project is in the heart of New Brunswick, a location that makes it prime for use by Mason Gross and its small army of artists and performers.

The move enables Rutgers to pay its tab with debt issued by the university, according to the resolution.

The New Brunswick Development Corporation, better known as Devco, has taken the lead on the $215 million project.

In doing so, it created a subsidiary called Cultural Center Redevelopment Urban Renewal Associates. Rutgers and the New Brunswick Cultural Center are positioned to become members of that entity, according to the resolution.

They will then take control of 60,000 square feet of what will be called the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, in the form of a 98-year lease from the cultural center, according to the project summary. Devco will exit that agreement when a tax deal expires in 30 years, and Rutgers will be released after the full term of the lease.

The three-pronged group also plans to install Devco as the managing partner of an organization named NBPAC Management. That entity will maintain and operate the performing arts center.

Its members are slated to include Rutgers, Devco, the George Street Playhouse, the New Brunswick Cultural Center and the American Repertory Ballet, which is moving its headquarters to the Hub City.

When construction is complete, portions of the project will be owned by various groups, according to the resolution.

The New Brunswick Parking Authority will own the roughly 340-space parking garage off Bayard Street. Middlesex County will own the office space. The project’s residential developer, Pennrose Properties, will own the 250 market-rate and affordable rental units. The American Repertory Ballet will own the two theaters. And the Devco subsidiary will own the rehearsal and studio spaces.

In total, the 450,000-square-foot development is slated to consist of two theaters, one of which will hold 465 seats and the other 253.

The main stage would span 86 feet, accommodating all sorts of performances, and an orchestra pit that can hold up to 70 musicians, according to the project summary. A second stage would run 60 feet and “provide additional flexibility to the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center to accommodate lecture, community and musical events,” according to the document.

Developers have repeatedly described the facilities as “state-of-the-art.”

As part of the Devco subsidiary, Rutgers would in part lay claim to the three rehearsal spaces and studios. They would support dance, drama and musical rehearsals, along with classes, workshops and small public shows, according to the project summary.

There also exists an option to build a standalone rehearsal space as part of the neighboring parking garage. That could include 2,200 square feet of studio space, dressing rooms and office space.

Devco and Pennrose plan to team up with the Actors Fund of America to market affordable apartments in the 22-story tower to graphic designers, musicians, dancers and other people involved with theater.

Construction is expected to begin this spring and completed by July 2019.

In its resolution, Rutgers described the cultural center redevelopment project as a move that would “transform New Brunswick’s downtown cultural arts district, ensuring that New Brunswick continues as a regional hub for the performing arts.”

The Devco subsidiary is expected to present plans for the project to the New Brunswick Planning Board at 7:30 p.m. tonight in City Hall.

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