$172 million New Brunswick Performing Arts Center opens, names stage for Mayor Jim Cahill

NEW BRUNSWICK – The $172 million New Brunswick Performing Arts Center has opened.

A private celebration for stakeholders, dignitaries and donors was held Wednesday, followed by a public ribbon-cutting ceremony that included a stage naming in honor of Mayor Jim Cahill on Thursday.

The James M. Cahill Stage was a surprise for the mayor who has served the city since 1991 and championed the development of the arts center for nearly as long.

“NBPAC was Mayor Cahill’s vision and his cause,” said Christopher J. Paladino, president of New Brunswick Development Corp. (DEVCO). “So, it is only fitting that his name be always Center Stage of the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theatre.”

Before a champagne toast the night before to a lobby full of 450 guests, Cahill said, “The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center will bring even more patrons to the city to enjoy our cultural and entertainment offerings, dine at our top-rated restaurants, and enjoy our hospitality and nightlife, all while generating revenue to keep our mission of community revitalization moving forward. All of our world-class performing arts entities will continue to thrive, reinforcing both the city’s and county’s standing as the premier cultural district in New Jersey.”

The four resident companies — George Street Playhouse, Crossroads Theatre Co., American Repertory Ballet and Mason Gross School of the Arts — all performed on Wednesday, showcasing the venue’s state-of-art facilities. They include a 75-foot fly, 38 traps, orchestra pit that accommodates 60 to 70 musicians, and other high-tech staging that rivals Broadway theaters.

George Street Artistic Director David Saint said top producers want to bring shows to the venue because of the quality of the 86-foot-stage, 463-seat Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater, 60-foot-stage, 252-seat Arthur Laurents Theater and five stage-length rehearsal studios.

“When I showed the arts center to my friend Jeffrey Seller, who produced ‘Hamilton’ and the ‘West Side Story’ I directed on Broadway, he said, ‘David this will change your life. This will change the life of George Street, and this will change the life of New Brunswick because it will become a destination for great theater.’”

New Brunswick PAC’s inaugural season is underway with Crossroads’ encore production of “Paul Robeson” about Rutgers University’s most famous alum, whose 100th graduation anniversary has been celebrated this year by the college and city. The play will run through Sept. 15 and tickets are available at nbpac.org, as well as the box office at 11 Livingston Ave.

Also taking place this weekend here is New Brunswick Jazz Project’s free 125th birthday party for Hub City native James P. Johnson, the composer of “The Charleston” and other stride piano jazz classics. The Sunday show will feature a performance by acclaimed pianist Aaron Diehl.

“NBPAC is a state-of-the-art performing arts center that is certain to be hailed as the Northeast’s premier venue for musical, dance and theatrical performing arts,” Paladino said. “Tonight’s opening marks the start of a new era for New Brunswick’s Downtown Cultural Arts District, and DEVCO is thrilled to be a part of it.”

In addition to DEVCO and the city, the arts center is a collaboration between more than a dozen public and private partners, including the state, county, New Brunswick Cultural Center, Pennrose, New Brunswick Parking Authority and Rutgers.

The university’s retiring President Robert Barchi heralded the project.

“The opening of NBPAC is the culmination of a phenomenal partnership with the City of New Brunswick and the arts community that provides an outstanding opportunity for our Mason Gross students to perfect and showcase their skills and artistry in a state-of-the-art venue,” Barchi said.

Speakers at the opening events also included Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios, Cultural Center Interim Director Tracey O’Reggio, city Council President John Anderson and representatives of resident companies.

In addition to the venue, the 450,000-square-foot, 23-story initiative features a 207-unit apartment complex fittingly called The Premiere that includes both market-rate and affordable luxury units. NBPAC partnered with The Actors Fund to market the affordable units to graphic artists, actors, musicians, dancers and theater support personnel. The artist units are sold out, but others in The Premiere are available at rentpremiere.com/.

Located above the theater complex is 30,000 feet of office space for arts organizations and potential private sector groups. There is also a 344-space public parking garage to accommodate residents, staff and theater patrons.

“The City of New Brunswick has been the right place for a venue of this caliber for decades,” Paladino said. “With over 1 million people in the New Brunswick area seeking a diverse arts environment, NBPAC is certain to transform the region’s cultural arts landscape for the next generation. This building symbolizes the next step in the revitalization of New Brunswick, further distinguishing it as one of America’s great cities.”

Bob Makin has won 11 New Jersey Press Association Awards and four Best of Gannett Awards. A news veteran of nearly 40 years, Makin covers business and entertainment. Contact him at 732-565-7319 and bmakin@gannett.com.

BACK