By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
The Count Basie Theatre‘s latest installment in a multi-year, multi-million dollar enhancement got the green light from Red Bank’s planning board Monday night.
Pending the acquisition of two lots previously on loan from theater pals Friends of The Basie, the landmark venue will pour concrete on a vacant swath of dirt and gravel to create an open-air mingling area for shows, plus parking spots for tour buses, freeing up coveted street space for guests.
The plan, to construct an outdoor terrace and parking on a 29,000 square-foot, L-shaped tract between the theater and neighboring restaurant Buona Sera, got the board’s unanimous approval in an accelerated meeting of OKs to various applicants.
The Basie proposal, despite getting a practical wave-through from the board, had hit some stumbling blocks since it was first made back in February. There were some fire and safety concerns, Mayor Pasquale Menna said, but those were addressed.
Then there was an issue with the property itself. One lot was already under ownership by the theater; the other two by a group of board members who rallied financial support for the theater and bought the land three years ago to ensure it’d be used strictly for the theater. The plan to knock out a portion of the theater wall and install a door leading to the patio hit a wall literally when it was discovered that the doorway would have landed on plot lines of the two owning entities.
Essentially meaning , “if one owner got mad at another owner, they could put up a fence,” Basie CEO Numa Saisselin said.
So the theater bought the remaining lots on the property for “a mutually agreeable number,” Saisselin said.
When the transaction goes through, the patio plan can get moving, he said. As part of the overall project, parking spots will be made available to fit up to two tour buses, and a six-foot wall will be erected to keep out the non-ticket holders.
One major aspect of the expansion, board member Dan Mancuso said, is that outsiders are not allowed to enter and hang out on the terrace.
“To open it up otherwise opens up a whole dimension of issues we’ve already got in the borough,” he said.
Menna showered the Basie in praise, calling it a “gem” and the “crown jewel of Red Bank,” and said the project creates a warm, inviting atmosphere for the theater, which is what it needs to maintain all those royal qualities he talked about.
Saisselin said the terrace will likely open up for at least the second half of the summer. Then the theater can further chip away at its enhancement plan: an upgrade to the heating and air-conditioning.
“That’ll be our next big capital project,” he said. “But that probably won’t be for another year or two.”