Black box theater first, then amphitheater – maybe

Following the recommendation of the administration, the Redevelopment Agency is moving forward on a black box theater while prioritizing parking over an amphitheater in the short term.

The Redevelopment Agency on Wednesday awarded a $5.825-million construction bid to Gingerelli Bros, Inc. The Toms River-based firm was the lowest among 16 bidders to renovate the former Bell Building on Hamilton Street into a 220-seat black box theater. The award includes a base bid of $5.757 million and alternate bid of $27,112 for a folding partition and $41,200 for a metal roof instead of asphalt shingles.
City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said the city has approved $12 million for both a black box theater and amphitheater and even with the elimination of one project, more money would have to be raised for a parking facility. The 1,300-seat amphitheater planned at the former Hamilton Laundry site cost more than the original estimate and he recommended to commissioners first building the black box theater and creating parking at the amphitheater site for the time being given the economy and city’s looming debt, such as the school system’s $34-million renovation projects. Officials estimated some $2.73 million already has been spent on architect and engineering fees and other site preparation.
There were six bidders for the amphitheater, the lowest from Berto Construction at $4.734 million ($4.2 million base bid plus $487,000 in alternate bids). Other bidders included W.D. Snyder Co., $6.15 million, and CGT Construction, $6.21 million. The amphitheater project had to be re-bid after an issue arose with the original bids, challenged by one of the bidding companies, last fall.
Former Mayor James Kennedy, now executive director of the Rahway Arts District, said the merits of building the black box theater first are basic. A black box theater would have a year-round revenue stream while removing a building that’s been blighted for over a decade. If the amphitheater was pursued first but the project ran out of money, the blighted Bell Building would remain. In addition, the amphitheater site could provide needed parking for the black box theater.
Pelissier said parking is very stressed from Grand Avenue to the arts center so for the moment, parking is more important than an amphitheater. He said it will cost $300,000 to cap the amphitheater site anyway and another $150,000 would bring a parking lot that the Parking Authority could use as a temporary revenue stream.
As currently designed, the Hamilton Street arts projects would have 48 parking spaces but creating parking at the amphitheater site would add 86. The agency was presented with an option to add two lots, the first of which would gain 16 spaces behind four homes currently stand on Hamilton Street for a total of 134 spaces (design at right). The second lot would add 138 spaces, losing 16 to reconfiguring spaces behind the homes but adding about 36 in the area of the homes, for a total 170 spaces (design above). The first lot included parking behind the homes. (Click the images to enlarge).
The bid that was awarded only includes parking behind the black box theater but not the additional parking at the amphitheater site, Pelissier said. That would have to be designed and bid, which the administration recommended pursuing separate bids for as early as next month.
Mayor Rick Proctor called it the “most common sense” solution at the moment because of the year-round revenue available from a blackbox theater as opposed to the seven to eight months from an amphitheater. “It’s the best to prioritize use of the money we have available,” he said.