Dozens of local politicians and players in the arts world turned out for the event. Below, Basie board members Steven Van Zandt and his wife, Maureen Van Zandt. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
A $23 million expansion of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre formally got underway Wednesday, beginning what’s expected to be a 20-month endeavor to turn the Vaudeville-era venue into a powerhouse for live performance and arts education.
The aim, musician and actor Steven Van Zandt told an al fresco gathering, is “to make Red Bank an example to the rest of the county of what it is possible to do” in elevating the arts.
Standing in what was once the Monmouth Street parking lot of a convenience store next door to the Basie, several dozen local politicians and arts supporters were treated to the sight of the rock guitarist wearing a purple hardhat over his signature head scarf for a ceremonial groundbreaking.
Van Zandt, who plays with Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band and joined the Boss onstage at Madison Square Garden with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney last Friday, serves on the Basie board of trustees with his wife, Maureen. A former Middletown resident, he has previously called the Basie his hometown theater, where he saw, among other films, the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” as a teen.
The start of construction comes as the Basie has raised $15 million toward the anticipated cost of the project, said theater chief executive Adam Philipson. That includes a $2 million commitment, announced at the event, from retired Toms River attorneys Linda and Jay Grunin, whose names will grace the a new arts education center on the site.
A second construction phase, on the eastern end of the building, is expected to begin in about three months, Philipson told redbankgreen. That portion, featuring a new plaza and “donor lounge,” will be named for patrons Carol Stillwell and Maryann Larkin.
When the entire project is completed, the theater will also have a new lobby, backstage upgrades, a second, multi-use venue for up-and-coming artists, and new space for the Basie’s Performing Arts Academy.
The borough zoning board approved the project in June, 2016, despite the fact that it would increase the theater’s parking deficit by about 130 spaces.
Now, with the borough government in the process of sorting through options for a possible new parking garage downtown, Philipson said the theater’s role in the issue is to continue serving as “prime economic engine” that feeds customers into nearby restaurants and, eventually, a parking facility, if one is built.
“Our responsibility is to continue to make Red Bank a vibrant place to be,” he told redbankgreen. “We’ve told the mayor that we will be a partner to make sure that that parking structure is utilized. Our feeling is that the amount of revenue we will help generate to make a parking lot work because of the utilization is probably hard for the town to even understand.”
The Basie opened in 1926 as the Carlton Theatre and, after a string of name changes over the decades, was rechristened in 1984 in honor of William “Count” Basie, the jazz composer and bandleader who was born in Red Bank 80 years earlier.