By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Bumping up against an informal deadline in an informal agreement with “friends,” the Count Basie Theatre is ready to make a move on a vacant lot next door.
The theater has submitted plans to the planning and zoning office at Red Bank Borough Hall, on the opposite side of Monmouth Street, to build an outdoor patio area on some 29,000-square-feet of space between the theater and abutting Buona Sera.
Basie executives will present the plan to the planning board next week to seek approval for a number of variances to get the L-shaped space clear for construction.
If approved, the patio will add yet another amenity to an ever-growing list of improvements at the historic theater, Basie CEO Numa Saisselin tells redbankgreen.
“It would make the building a lot better to use if there was a bigger meeting area,” Saisselin said.
The patio would, for all intents and purposes, become an extension of the theater’s main lobby, Saisselin said. The plan is to knock out a part of the eastern wall and put in a door that would lead to the patio, complete with a bar and small seating area something similar to many major venues, he said.
“If you think about places like the Kennedy Center or Lincoln Center in New York, there’s a big place to hang out when it’s nice,” Saisselin said. “This will be a place for people to hang that’s nice.”
The Basie has no intentions of making it more than that, either, Saisselin said. A six-foot fence will be built along the northern, Monmouth Street edge of the property to keep outsiders from dropping in for a beer or mingling with theater-goers. The space will strictly be for employees and paying customers.
“The public won’t be able to walk in like it’s the Dublin House,” Saisselin said.
The original architectural renderings submitted to planning and zoning show a tent covering the patio. Saisselin said zoning limitations may discourage the theater from moving forward on that idea.
The delivery of the plan comes three years after a group of board members banded together to form Friends of The Basie, and purchased the land for $2.1 million a move the theater couldn’t financially make at that time, and still can’t. The Friends, at the time, gave the Basie a vague timeline to make a move on the property. Saisselin said the theater entered into a lease agreement with the Friends “at the tail end of last year.”
The end goal, as it was in 2008, is for the theater to come up with enough money to purchase the land from the Friends and retain sole ownership. Saisselin said the property is not up for sale at the moment.
Assuming there are no bumps in the approval process, Saisselin said the patio should be ready to go by the time the weather warms up. But the theater won’t rush to get it done, he said.
“Our modus operandi,” he said, “has always been, let’s get it right the first time.”
The planning board meets at 7p Monday in the council chambers at borough hall.