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
The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, a $172 million mixed-use project rising in the city’s downtown, has added to its cachet with two newly announced naming gifts.
The developers of the project joined city officials and the George Street Playhouse this week in unveiling the new Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater and the Arthur Laurents Theater. The dedications stem from $7.75 million in gifts — the largest in the theater company’s history — and are named after two benefactors.
“We are grateful and honored by the generosity of Betty Wold Johnson, The Elizabeth Ross Johnson Charitable Trust, and The Laurents/Hatcher Foundation,” Kelly Ryman, managing director of George Street Playhouse, said in a prepared statement. “As we prepare to take residence in this new, state-of-the-art performing arts center, the confidence our benefactors have in the work we do takes on new meaning.”
New Brunswick Development Corp. is spearheading the project, which is slated to open this fall. Rising 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 Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater, the center’s larger theater, is named in memory of the daughter of Betty Wold Johnson and Robert Wood Johnson III, according to a news release. The Arthur Laurents Theater is named for a longtime friend of George Street Playhouse, award-winning playwright and author Arthur Laurents.
“The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center represents the absolute best in the arts, public and private partnerships and state-of-the-art entertainment and culture,” New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill said. “We look forward to raising the curtain this year to welcome the next chapter of our outstanding performing arts scene in these new and modern spaces, named in honor of two beloved champions of the arts and culture.”
Betty Wold Johnson, through The Elizabeth Ross Johnson Charitable Trust, gifted $5 million to George Street Playhouse in honor of her daughter, the news release said. Elizabeth Ross Johnson, who grew up in Princeton, was a benefactor to the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Central Park Conservancy, among others, while also supporting wildlife conservation in Africa and creating a not-for-profit organization in Cambodia called the Sovann Komar.
The Laurents/Hatcher Foundation, named for Arthur Laurents and his partner Tom Hatcher, gifted $2.75 million to the George Street Playhouse that will support its commitment to the development and production of new plays and musicals. Arthur Laurents wrote the books for musicals such as Gypsy and West Side Story, along with screenplays The Way We Were and The Turning Point.
Laurents premiered nine of his plays at George Street Playhouse.
“Arthur always said George Street Playhouse was his favorite theater,” said David Saint, artistic director of George Street Playhouse. “It is fitting that this brilliant artist, who contributed profoundly to the theater and film canons, will be honored in this way. Arthur was a true friend, and it means so much to this community that his name will be etched into this extraordinary performing arts center that George Street Playhouse will call home.”
Featuring two state-of-the-art theaters, NBPAC will offer new theater technology such as a fly loft that will allow for scenery to raise and lower and an expansive orchestra pit, the news release said. George Street Playhouse’s inaugural season in the NBPAC will feature five productions in both the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater, which seats 463, and The Arthur Laurents Theater, which seats 259.
Other plans call for a spacious lobby, a donor lounge, expanded restroom facilities and barrier-free access to all levels, along with many other modern amenities.
The complex will also be home to Crossroads Theatre Company, American Repertory Ballet and Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. The project’s office space component spans about 30,000 feet of office space, which is owned by Middlesex County and located on two floors above the theater complex.
Meantime, a 207-unit residential apartment tower will rise above the theater complex, featuring both market-rate and affordable apartment units.
“This is an exciting moment for the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center and the City of New Brunswick,” said Christopher J. Paladino, President of Devco. “The extraordinary generosity of these two benefactors further distinguishes New Brunswick as a premier center for the performing arts. NBPAC continues to deliver on its promise to transform New Brunswick’s Downtown Cultural Arts District.”
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.