Final approval for amphitheater funding Monday

The City Council is scheduled to vote next Monday night to borrow $8.5 million for three projects planned within the city’s Arts District. A public hearing is scheduled during the council’s regular meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. (Click on the image above to enlarge to full screen.)

The ordinance would cover the cost of construction of the 1,000-seat amphitheater; renovation of the Bell Building for a 200-seat black box theater; acquisition of the Elizabethtown Gas building, and acquisition of related arts equipment. The city already has bonded about $3 million for earlier site work and acquisitions, including $2 million to purchase the former Hamilton Laundry building for the amphitheater. The gas building is eyed for a co-operative gallery space, and an adjacent property for artist housing. “It will add a true presence of artists living and working in town,” said Mayor James Kennedy.

The Hamilton Street arts projects aim to become self-sustaining, between naming rights and fee- and non-fee based programming, to pay off the debt, according to City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier. They will feature a different type and level of programming than the Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), the mayor said.

One of the four 2-1/2 story homes between the Bell Building and former Hamilton Laundry site is scheduled to be demolished this spring. Ultimately, the four remaining homes will be acquired and razed to provide more parking for the area, according to Kennedy, ideally within two years.

The site is ideally tailored by the river for an amphitheater, according to Michael Farewell of Princeton-based Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects. “It’s hard to find a better site for an amphitheater,” he said during a presentation to the Redevelopment Agency last month. The project will include stabilizing the bank in the natural curve of the river. The structure, he said, must be designed to withstand floods as well as being exposed to the elements while the lower area of the amphitheater will have removable seating. The only part of the site not within the flood plain is the Bell Building itself, according to City Engineer James Housten

Housten said remediation should take place over the next four to six months. The city, he added, already has a $500,000 state grant for investigation and remediation will be done through the state Brownfield Development Area funding.

If the UCPAC is ever going to be successful, the city must be able to accommodate 800 to 1,000 people with a 400- to 500-space parking deck closer to the arts center, the mayor said. The city is looking at two potential sites for a parking structure: the corner of Elizabeth Avenue and Main Street and the Cambridge Court Apartments on Main Street.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council is scheduled to give final approval on an ordinance that would shift management of the Special Improvement District from the Rahway Center Partnership to the Arts District board.