New Brunswick Development Corp. is overseeing the development of the new 450,000-square-foot, $172 million project known as the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. — Courtesy: New Brunswick Development Corp. and Elkus Manfredi Architects
By Joshua Burd
If it’s any indication as to how long Chris Paladino has been waiting for the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, you might say that he has been counting the days.
“It was 3,502 days ago since we first announced this project at the Heldrich Hotel,” said Paladino, the president of the New Brunswick Development Corp., or Devco. “Since then, we’ve experienced the country’s worst recession, the housing bust, the failures of Wall Street — and people stopped giving money to the arts.
“But we didn’t quit on this project,” he added, giving credit to New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill. “He wouldn’t let us give up. The mayor continued to remind us how important the arts are to not just our community, but to community as a whole, how the arts strengthen our values and how they build community character and a sense of place. And, maybe most importantly, how the arts enhance the economic viability of a city.”
A commitment to those beliefs gave way to a long-awaited milestone on Wednesday, as Devco, public officials and a host of other stakeholders broke ground on the $172 million New Brunswick Performing Arts Center project. Slated to rise 23 stories on Livingston Avenue, the mixed-use complex stands to transform the city’s famed downtown cultural arts district, spanning 450,000 square feet that will include performance venues, office space and more than 200 luxury apartments.
The completed project is set to open its doors in 2019.
“We’ve already seen in New Brunswick what investment in the arts can do for our community,” Cahill said during the ceremony, which drew a packed crowd to the city’s Monuments Square Park. “I don’t think it’s simply a coincidence that New Brunswick and its arts organizations have a run a parallel course in their growth and resurgence.”
Designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, the complex will occupy the site of the former George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theater. It will become the new home to both theater companies, which are longtime fixtures in the city, along with the American Repertory Ballet and Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
The groups will benefit from two state-of-the-art theaters and rehearsal studios, while arts organizations will likely be among the tenants in 30,000 square feet of office space. The project’s 207-unit luxury residential tower, which will include a 20 percent set-aside for affordable units, will be owned and operated by Pennrose LLC and will feature amenities such as an outdoor roof deck, a demonstration kitchen, work space and a full fitness center.
As with Devco’s other high-profile redevelopments in the city, the NBPAC project is part of a public-private partnerships involving a long list of other stakeholders: the city of New Brunswick, Rutgers University, Middlesex County, the state Economic Development Authority, New Brunswick Cultural Center, Pennrose and the New Brunswick Parking Authority.
The team also includes 11 other groups and organizations, according to Devco, and the project is being financed by a medley of government and private funding sources. They include a $40 million tax credit under the state’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth program, which was authorized last year by special legislation.
“This actually doesn’t happen in a lot of places, where you have all levels of government working together,” state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney said. “And it starts with your mayor and Chris, who actually had a vision to see what can be instead of what is. And this community has changed so greatly because of that.”
Along with participation by Devco, Pennrose and the government entities, the financing package also includes Pillar Financial/Fannie Mae, Citibank, Investors Bank, Aegon and Rutgers University, which helped complete the transaction alongside private equity sources.
“Pennrose is proud to collaborate and partner with the many organizations who are involved with this project,” Richard K. Barnhart, chairman and CEO of Pennrose said in a prepared statement. “This iconic development will be instrumental in transforming New Brunswick, New Jersey and the performing arts, in general.”
Devco expects the two new theaters to attract larger productions and accommodate more shows, while supporting more than 120 full-time equivalent jobs once the facility opens. The not-for-profit developer also pointed to an expected increase in spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations, as well as their audiences, driving growth in revenue for local businesses and merchants.
The NBPAC development team anticipates partnering with The Actors Fund to market the new luxury units to graphic artists, actors, musicians, dancers and theater support personnel, according to a news release. The project also calls for a 344-space parking garage that will be developed on a former surface parking lot.
“Middlesex County is a place that truly values and invests in our arts community, and that is why we are so very proud of our contributions to the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center,” Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios said. “This project will help my fellow freeholders and I reach our goals of giving our residents opportunities to learn, to perform and to enjoy the arts in all its forms, and to boost economic development by making Middlesex County a destination for people from all over the Northeast region to come for top quality arts and cultural programs and performances.”