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BASIE CAN HAVE A LOT, IF IT WANTS IT

Basie_facadeImg_0470The facade of the small building next door to the theater was the last piece to go; now there’s just a hole in the ground. (Facade photo courtesy of Wendy Spencer)

A small, ivy-swaddled office building that stood next door to the Count Basie Theatre was demolished last week. In its place will rise… well, nobody knows yet, apparently.

Near-term, the lot at 95 Monmouth Street will be used as a staging area for construction equipment and materials during a planned four-month interior renovation of the theater, scheduled to begin June 30. After that, the lot is likely to remain empty for at least the next three years.

Basie CEO Numa Saisselin tells redbankgreen that’s how long the theater has to decide if it wants, and can afford, to acquire the lot from a group of angels who bought it simply to keep anyone other than the Basie owning it.

According to Saisselin, “four or five” members of the board of the Count Basie Foundation got together and bought the site for $2.1 million.

Basie officials knew the property was for sale, but the theater didn’t have the financial wherewithal to buy it, Saisselin says. Some forward-thinking board members, however, saw a missed opportunity waiting to happen if they didn’t act.

“They said, ‘we’re going to regret this someday'” if the theater doesn’t acquire the property, Saisselin says. So they arranged to buy it themselves under the rubric of Friends of the Basie.

And even though there’s no formal agreement between the group and the theater, and the group can sell the parcel at any time, the Friends group has given the Basie “a reasonable deadline” to decide if and how if might take the property off their hands, at cost, Saisselin says.

“It’s purely out of the goodness of their hearts,” he says. “This gives us time to figure out if we want it.”

He said the building was “on its last legs” and ready to be torn down anyway. Now, the site will be used by trailers and other vehicles during the renovation project. A hole will be cut into the theater’s east wall to give contractors direct access to the lobby, he says.

Saisselin referred us for further details about the transaction to foundation board member Stephen Cutler, who did not respond to our phone calls.

Monmouth County records show the property was mortgaged in January by Trebies Inc. of Rumson for $2.15 million. Friends of the Basie is identified as the sole shareholder of Trebies, and Cutler is named as manager of Friends of the Basie.

The sellers were members of the Seibert family who held it through Trebies — Seibert spelled backwards. Jane Seibert of Little Silver says the family bought it about 50 years ago as a place where her mother, Dr. Helen Greenleaf, could practice internal medicine and have dedicated parking for her patients. The site had about 20 parking spaces out back, she says.

There’s also a 10-foot-wide right of way to Maple Avenue, just south of Buona Sera Ristorante.

The building had been vacant since Dr. Greenleaf closed her practice in 2000, Seibert says.

The building dated back to about 1923, she says, which would make it three years older than the Basie (originally known as the Carlton Theatre). It was built and used as an office by Tuller Construction Co., a heavy construction outfit, until her family acquired it, Seibert says.

The Basie foundation helps raise money for the theater, which gets only about half its operating budget from ticket sales. As one might expect, its board includes some local luminaries, including singer Patti Scialfa Springsteen; Wall Street billionaire Mickey Gooch; and former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna.

Scialfa’s husband, Bruce Springsteen, and his band last month played a benefit show at the theater that raised some $3 million for the gut job.

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