Facing a potential cost of roughly $1 million to acquire and demolish three homes to turn into parking for Hamilton Street arts projects, the Redevelopment Agency appears to be putting that move on hold for the time being.
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.
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.
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.
A trio of change-orders and construction costs for additional parking at the Bell building could increase the cost of the Hamilton Street arts projects by as much as $2.1 million.
The Redevelopment Agency on Wednesday approved three change-orders to the Bell building renovation project totaling about $348,000. The largest change-order was $275,000 for site work all the way around the building to the nearest adjacent home, which includes some drainage work. Another change order for $4,500 was for an alternate bid for the roof, and another set aside $68,500 for mold remediation throughout the building.
Mold is on most of the walls, studs and rafters in the Bell building, City Engineer James Housten said during a presentation to the Redevelopment Agency last week. Remediation will be done in two phases: first, clean and demolish the walls, and then the roof and windows will be installed at which point the entire interior can be fogged.
The change-orders increase the $5.825-million contract for the Bell building to $6.173 million, which Housten said was still less than the $6.2 million in the current account for the project. The cost of parking construction, however, came in at a total of almost $1.6 million, including $815,000 for Lot A and $256,000 for Lot B, and another $507,000 for soft costs and contingency.
Lot A, where the amphitheater originally was planned, would have 99 spaces while Lot B would have 58 spaces, along with 16 remaining behind the Bell Building, for a total 173 spaces, almost as many as the 202 seats planned for the black box theater, Housten told commissioners last week.
Construction bids for the Bell building renovations also don’t include the soft costs for architect fees, $281,000; engineering fees, $260,000, and utilities, $25,000. In all, the project could need another $2.1 million, not including bond and legal costs, which is broken down in this Google spreadsheet.
At least one commissioner, Timothy Nash, seemed concerned during discussion of the costs possibly rising to $8 million or more for the projects. “That’s a lot of money,” he said.
If City Council approves financing next month, the city could bid the parking lots and break ground by August, Housten said. If all goes well, both the parking lots and black box theater would open sometime next spring. He reminded commissioners that the parking lot would be available for a lot of other uses, not just the Bell building, such as the Union County Performing Arts Center and downtown activities and restaurants.
The City Council last year approved an $8.5-million bond ordinance for construction of the Hamilton Street arts projects. The Redevelopment Agency in January decided to move forward with the black box theater and build temporary parking at the site of the proposed amphitheater.
The proposed 200-seat black box theater is often referred to as the Bell building simply because it was once a Bell Telephone facility. Eventually, the arts facilities planned on Hamilton Street within the Arts District will need a real name.
During a discussion and presentation about the projects to the Redevelopment Agency tonight, Redevelopment Director and City Administrator Peter Pelissier suggested that commissioners consider naming the facility in honor of former Mayor James Kennedy.
“At some point we need to name the building and refer to it as a complex,” he said. The former mayor would be a good tribute since he “has been behind this from the beginning,” Pelissier said, and continues this passion as executive director of the Rahway Arts District.
Kennedy served five terms as mayor, from 1990 until 2010, declining to seek re-election a year ago. “It was his vision to make Rahway an arts destination,” Pelissier said. “It would be a really appropriate facility to name for Jim Kennedy.”
Redevelopment Agency Vice Chairman Courtney Clarke said the agency would give it serious consideration.
The presentation to the Redevelopment Agency included approvals for change-orders to the black box theater construction bids, an update on the parking situation and a revised financial overview. A complete blog post on the presentation is forthcoming.
The Redevelopment Agency last month awarded a contract to Woodbridge-based Prime Appraisal, Inc. to perform appraisals on three Hamilton Street properties eyed for future parking related to Arts District projects.
The contract is for $6,000, or no more than $2,000 to appraise each property, all of which are two-family homes:
* 318-320 Hamilton St. (Block 167, Lot 43), which paid about $7,500 in property taxes last year, and last sold in November 1998 for $135,000, according to PropertyShark.com.
* 332-336 Hamilton St. (Block 167, Lot 41), which last year paid about $7,000 in property taxes, but the most recent sale price was not available.
* 342-344 Hamilton St. (Block 167, Lot 40), which paid about $6,300 in property taxes and last changed hands in November 1995 for $124,000.
The Redevelopment Agency last month agreed to pursue a 220-seat black box theater for the former Bell Telephone Building, awarding a $5.825-million bid to Gingerelli Bros, Inc. of Toms River. The agency put off construction of a 1,300-seat amphitheater and instead will move forward with a parking lot on the former Hamilton Laundry site in the meantime.
One home adjacent to the proposed amphitheater site already has been razed, after the agency acquired it for $340,000 in 2008, and another is set to be knocked down after the City Council approved $400,000 for acquisition ($240,000) and demolition and related asbestos and tank removal.