Gabor Barabas, executive director of NJ Rep, said prior to gaining site plan approval during the Dec. 15 Planning Board meeting that a theater in West End will add to the business district.
“We’ve truly been given a remarkable opportunity, a once in a lifetime chance, to turn the West End School into the West End Performing Arts Center,” Barabas said. “West End is a remarkable neighborhood and we are very excited because of the iconic businesses.
“It is the perfect place to create a cultural renaissance for the city.”
The proposal includes a 150-seat main theatre, a 35-seat rehearsal theater and a 75- seat “black box” theater for additional performances, as well as two additional movie theaters with museum and gallery space.
NJ Rep. also has plans to hold performances on the “great lawn,” which will be a crafted lawn area where the school’s athletic fields are currently located.
The West End School is a multi-story 27,000 square foot building that will be expanded an additional 20,000 square feet to accommodate NJ Rep.
NJ Rep agreed to purchase the circa- 1920s structure on West End Avenue for $2.25 million from the Long Branch School District, which closed the long-time elementary school in 2014.
Barabas said the theater company plan on beginning to put on shows in the current building this upcoming spring and construction will be done in six phases.
Barabas explained some of the programs planned for the West End Performing Arts Center.
“What we propose is building a cultural center that will serve generations to come,” Barabas said. “We plan on presenting plays, comedies, musicals, programs for children and young adults and their families, providing classes on performing arts and developing museum space.”
According to Barabas, the center will be open during the week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with performances in evening from Thursday to Saturday and matinees on Satur- day and Sunday.
NJ Rep currently is the host to about 20,000 people a year and is based at the 70- seat Lumia Theatre at 179 Broadway.
In 2014, Barabas confirmed that the theater company was looking at secondary locations. He said the preference was always to open a second location in Long Branch.
Barabas said NJ Rep has a reputation that will lead to success in the second location.
“Although there were some difficult times at the beginning, we gradually built a successful theater,” he said. “In 18 years, we produced over 100 plays.”
NJ Rep currently produces about six shows, hosts about 25 readings of new plays in development and holds classes in playwriting for adults and children.
Barabas, who founded the theater company with his wife, SuzAnne Barabas, the company’s artistic director, said the intent has always been to expand the theater to a larger, or secondary, location on Broadway.
The theater on lower Broadway is located within the city’s Broadway Arts redevelopment zone, which previously included plans for an expansive arts district, retail space and residential areas along lower Broadway. However, due to litigation and foreclosure proceedings involving the developer, the plans have not materialized.