MyCentralJersey: $172M New Brunswick Performing Arts Center breaks ground

Published On: October 4th, 2017

The City of New Brunswick and New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco) broke ground Wednesday on the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC) project, a $172 million redevelopment initiative that will transform New Brunswick’s Downtown Cultural Arts District.

The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center is a public-private partnership among Devco, the city, Rutgers University, Middlesex County, the state Economic Development Authority, the New Brunswick Cultural Center, Pennrose Properties and the New Brunswick Parking Authority, along with 11 other groups.

The groundbreaking was attended by community leaders, local and state officials, including Mayor Jim Cahill, Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi, state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios and Devco President Christopher J. Paladino.

The NBPAC initiative, a 450,000-square-foot project on the site of the former George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theater on Livingston Avenue, will continue to distinguish New Brunswick as a premier center for the performing arts, Cahill said at the project’s groundbreaking ceremony.

“The City of New Brunswick and its partner in redevelopment, Devco, will soon be ushering in a new era for our Cultural Center with the construction of these transformative facilities, further bolstering New Brunswick’s legacy as a place where the arts grow and thrive,” Cahill said.

“The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center is an example of Devco and our City’s expertise in leveraging public-private partnerships for maximum benefit to our community as we further our commitment to the arts, housing, economic development, education and job creation. We are excited to join and thank all our partners who have played an integral role in beginning this next chapter of history for our Cultural Center with this innovative and far-reaching project.”

The innovative redevelopment project is expected to open its doors to the public in 2019 as the home to George Street Playhouse, Crossroads Theatre Co., American Repertory Ballet and Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

NBPAC will attract and support arts professionals and organizations, sparking creativity and innovation across New Brunswick’s arts community, partners said.

“I would like to thank President Barchi, Senate President Sweeney, Gov. Christie, Freeholder Director Rios, NJEDA, Pennrose, the entire New Brunswick cultural arts community and our other financial partners for being a part of this cutting-edge urban initiative that will be transformational for New Brunswick,” Paladino said.

“Devco is proud to be part of New Brunswick’s vibrant arts and cultural community through this groundbreaking redevelopment project and look forward to experiencing the wide-range of benefits it will provide to our city in the near future.”

The new theater complex will include two state-of-the-art, proscenium-style theaters, designed to accommodate musical theater, dance, opera and dramatic theater. The Lyric Theatre, which will seat 462 patrons, will feature an 86-foot stage, a 75-foot fly tower and a trap system, with an orchestra pit that will be able to accommodate 60 to 70 musicians.

The playhouse, designed primarily for theatrical performances and smaller dancer performances, will have 252 seats and will feature a 60-foot stage and contemporary grid system for lighting and sound and will provide the NBPAC with additional flexibility for lecture, community and musical events to be accommodated.

The main building also will contain three rehearsal studios that will replicate the stage spaces of the two theaters inside the complex, helping maximize the use of the theater venues by providing access to rehearsal time off the main and second stages. Each studio will be designed to support dance, drama, music rehearsals, general classes, workshops and small public performances.

About 30,000 feet of office space will be on two floors above the theater complex and will be owned by the county to be used by arts organizations and potential private-sector groups.

“This is an extraordinary example of public-private partnership and a resource that will offer so much for students, artists, theatergoers, local businesses, the city and the region,” Barchi said. “Rutgers is excited to be part of NBPAC, and we can’t wait to have our students learn and perform here.”

A 207-unit residential rental apartment tower will rise above the theater complex, featuring market-rate and affordable luxury apartment units, equipped with state-of-the-art appliances and finishes, 10-foot ceilings and open floor plans. It will be owned and operated by Pennrose Properties. Pennrose combines real estate developments with professional management services.

The residential tower also will provide residents with access to a wide range of amenities, including an outdoor roof deck, a demonstration kitchen, work space and a fitness center.

The arts center development team anticipates partnering with The Actors Fund to market the new luxury units to graphic artists, actors, musicians, dancers and theater support personnel. A 344-space structured parking garage also will be developed on a former surface parking lot.

“This project is a great example of what the public and private sectors can do when we work together toward a common goal of investing in our communities in ways that create jobs and promote economic activity,” Sweeney said.

“The partnership of the State of New Jersey, New Brunswick, Rutgers University and Devco has helped to transform the city and the region. Arts and entertainment can be important components of a multidimensional approach to economic development because they contribute to the economy with construction and permanent jobs and as attractions for commercial activity.”

The project also is expected to provide significant economic benefits to the community.

The two new theaters will attract larger productions and accommodate more shows. The arts center estimates that more than 120 full-time equivalent jobs will become available when the facility opens, representing more than a 25 percent increase in the total number of individuals employed across New Brunswick’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations.

The amount of money spent by nonprofit arts and culture organizations, as well as their audiences, also is expected to increase, driving growth in revenue for local businesses and merchants.

“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,” 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. I thank all our partners, especially the New Brunswick Cultural Center, the City of New Brunswick, the state EDA and Devco for sharing our commitment.”

NBPAC will continue to support the ongoing contributions of resident companies to provide access across local communities and throughout the state.

American Repertory Ballet’s partnership with the city Board of Education has created DANCE POWER, serving more than 1,500 students each year. George Street Playhouse has brought hundreds of theatrical performances to tens of thousands of students across the stage.

The partnership also will collaborate with the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and their Extension Division to enhance comprehensive year-round educational opportunities in dance, filmmaking, music, musical theater and visual arts for precollege and adult students.

“Rutgers-New Brunswick and our Mason Gross School of the Arts look forward to partnering with NBPAC, which will contribute to our students’ education, our neighbors’ cultural enrichment, and the region’s economy,” Rutgers Chancellor Debasish “Deba” Dutta said.

“New Brunswick has long been a national model for public-private partnerships,” Paladino added. “With the 19 partners for this project, this clearly represents one of the largest public-private partnerships in the history of New Jersey. NBPAC has the potential to bring true transformational change to the city, the region, and the State of New Jersey.”

The partners also include Middlesex County Improvement Authority, State of New Jersey, George Street Playhouse, Crossroads Theatre Co., American Repertory Ballet, AJD Construction, Elkus Manfredi Architects, investors Bank, AEGON, CITI and TD Bank.

The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center is a long-cherished dream fulfilled and will usher in a new era, directors of George Street Playhouse, Crossroads and American Repertory Ballet said.

“It is a thrilling opportunity to offer our world-class artists a world-class theater facility in which to create,” said David Saint, artistic director, George Street Playhouse.

“The New Brunswick Cultural Center takes enormous pride in the role it has played in making the vision of a new Performing Arts Center a reality,” added Thomas Kelso, chairman of New Brunswick Cultural Center.

“The extraordinary efforts of all the public sector partners and our family of cultural non-profit organizations are truly a labor of love brought about by the hard work and dedication of many individuals whose combined efforts will assure that a whole spectrum of arts programming and education will thrive in the City of New Brunswick for generations to come.”

Staff Writer Bob Makin: 732-565-7319;