METUCHEN – Extensive community outreach has begun as Webb Management LLC is in the process of putting together a feasibility study for the Forum Theater.
“As part of this important initial step, Webb representatives will be interviewing a wide range of leaders, including those in the arts, civic, business and entertainment communities, over the next few weeks,” Mayor Jonathan Busch said in a social media post on Oct. 20. “These findings will be shared at a public forum, which will enable all residents to provide feasibility study input on the forum.”
In August, the Borough Council approved a contract for Webb Management Services, New York, as theater consultant services in a total amount not to exceed $49,000.
Webb Management will conduct a needs assessment in the amount not to exceed $26,000 and if necessary a business plan in the amount not to exceed $23,000.
Busch said public input is a critical and important part of the process for Webb Management Services to get a good understanding of the community.
“We are unlike any other community,” he said at a council meeting on Oct. 19. “No matter how many places [Webb Management] has been to, they need to understand us for this particular project.”
Busch has said the process will take months, but “it is specifically designed to gather extensive public input and consult with experts from throughout the arts industry in an effort to provide guidance on the district’s eventual business operations to ensure that the project is as successful for our community as possible.”
In 2019, the mayor signed a purchase contract to acquire the theater from Marloe Enterprises Inc. for $1.399 million. The Lowery family had owned the theater for 37 years.
The acquisition of the historic 1927 theater was made possible with a $3.5 million grant from Middlesex County, the largest single grant Metuchen has received from the county.
In October 2018, county and borough officials announced the county was allocating the grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund to help create the Metuchen Arts District.
The Metuchen Arts District would include the Forum Theater along Main Street and the corner of Amboy Avenue, the site of an abandoned gas station. The acquisition of the theater is the first major step in the borough’s proposed creation of a Metuchen Arts District, which officials announced in August 2018.
The proposed arts district would include a renovation of the 450-seat Forum Theater and the conversion of the gas station next door into a contemporary indoor-outdoor event space and dining area called “Spot.”
Busch has said the proposed arts district would not only restore the Forum Theater and create an art hub, but also create potential sustainable revenue which would lead to greater economic development and benefits for Metuchen and Middlesex County through parking fees and advertisements.
The mayor explained that since the space would be a public entity, a special concession liquor license could be considered for an interested restaurant group.