LITTLE SILVER – The New Jersey Repertory Company is looking to leave behind Broadway – in Long Branch, that is – for a larger stage in the borough.
NJ Rep, a not-for-profit professional theater, which has been operating out of its 179 Broadway, Long Branch, location for the last 17 years, would like to acquire an approximately 1-acre vacant property in the area of the NJ Transit commuter train station on Branch Avenue, according to NJ Rep representatives.
The hope is, said Marilyn Pearlman, president of NJ Rep’s board of trustees and Little Silver resident, to use the site to construct a larger theater, one that would include a children’s theater and have available parking.
The property is the site of a former Texaco gas station, three vacant residences and the former Wicker Rose furniture store, according to Raymond Smith, whose firm, Stafford Smith Commercial Realty, Shrewsbury, owns the site.
Pearlman has been thinking about the property since first noticing it for sale a while ago and came to the conclusion: “This is the gateway to Little Silver and this would be the perfect spot” to relocate the theater.
The property would be large enough to construct a proposed 99-seat theater – which would have the potential to grow to 125 seats – and a children’s theater, which would have 50 to 60 seats, and an educational programs theater that representatives had long sought but weren’t able to accommodate in the Long Branch space, Pearlman said.
The Long Branch theater has 70 seats.
Pearlman also believes the proposed theater would be an ideal use for the site because of the hours of operations for its primary use – evenings and weekends mostly – and that it wouldn’t interfere with weekday commuter and school-day traffic, Pearlman said.
Pearlman and Gabor Barabas, the theater’s executive producer, last month approached Mayor Robert C. Neff Jr. and the borough council to gauge their support for such a proposal. “All of them thought it would be a wonderful idea,” Pearlman said.
“I am delighted in the interest expressed by such a talented and innovative theater,” said Neff in an email.
He also thanked Pearlman for coming forward with the proposal. “I really look forward to speaking further with the New Jersey Repertory Company to discuss the proposal in greater detail.”
Stafford Smith acquired the property about 1½ years ago, Smith said, purchasing it from the bankruptcy trustee for property formerly owned by Solomon Dwek.
Dwek is the infamous FBI informant who was convicted of federal and state bank fraud and is currently serving prison sentences for those charges.
Smith said NJ Rep “acknowledged having an interest in acquiring the property from me.” However, “I have yet to see any offer or proof of funds,” he added.
“I’m not sure how we’d get the money to do this project” just yet, Pearlman acknowledged.
She and the theater’s board members are looking at possible options, including grant opportunities, to finance the project.
“I’m happy to work with the group. They’re a wonderful group of people with an ambitious but noble vision,” said Smith, noting he’s willing to work with the theater –“to a point.”
Smith said he is looking for a $100,000-a-year lease from the theater, which would allow NJ Rep to move forward and build the facility without a big, upfront cash payment.
Smith also acknowledged, “I’m entertaining several potential uses” for the property.
NJ Rep produces original theatrical works with professional casts and directors. Over its history, “for some crazy reason we’ve been successful and continue to grow,” Barabas said.
The Long Branch location was probably always too small for what they intended and trying to expand there hasn’t been successful, with the theater unable to acquire neighboring property or working on creative architecture designs for the existing space, Barabas said.
“We’re bulging at the seams,” Barabas said, noting the theater, especially over the last few years, has had to turn theatergoers away from performances because of the lack of space.
“This may be the opportunity to spread our wings,” he said of the Little Silver proposal.