Renovations begin on Bell Building

Renovations to the former Bell Telephone building on Hamilton Street got under way this week. The goal is to transform the vacant structure into a 200-seat black box theater by this time next year, along with parking on adjacent sites that had been planned as an amphitheater.

With costs rising and taxpayers facing those expenses, as well as a $34-million school bond project approved in September 2009, the Redevelopment Agency decided to move ahead with the black box theater while putting the amphitheater on hold for the time being in favor of parking. The thinking was that a black box theater could provide year-round revenue versus the seven or eight months the amphitheater could provide while also reactivating building that has laid fallow for years. The site of the proposed amphitheater could provide needed parking in the meantime, for the black box theater and the Arts District in general.

The City Council is poised to approve, at its meeting next month, a $1.6-million amendment to a $8.5-million bond ordinance approved last spring for the Hamilton Arts District projects. The additional $1.6 million would cover the costs of parking at the amphitheater site and other associated “soft costs,” for engineering and architecture.

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If you agreed that the link earlier this week was pretty wonky, this one is very wonky: From the American Planning Association, “How Arts and Cultural Strategies Create, Reinforce and Enhance a Sense of Place” is a little on the long side at about 3,500 words but breaks down some key points about public art, arts and cultural programming, and urban infrastructure and design, while also citing a number of examples of cities around the country.

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Earlier this year, Princeton University scrapped a plan for a $300-million arts and transit neighborhood project for the area around the Dinky. The first phase would have included a 145,000-square-foot performing arts building and the second phase would have added an additional 130,000 square feet of arts space.