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Historic Studio Eyed for Expanded BergenPAC Arts School

The performing arts center intends to use the historic building, which closed as a recording studio in 2011, to expand its educational programs.

If all goes as the Englewood Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) and bergenPAC officials plan, the performing arts center will soon have a new space to expand its performing arts school—the building on North Van Brunt Street that was until 2011 Bennett Studios.

The Englewood Mayor and Council heard presentations from both groups at their workshop meeting Tuesday, and city officials indicated they’re likely to approve an ordinance enabling bergenPAC to lease and maintain the historic building on a long-term basis.

Adam Brown, chairman of the EEDC, a 15-member independent nonprofit organization charged with promoting economic development in Englewood, said his group currently manages under lease the former Bennett Studios, which closed in 2011.

The studio had until that time been run by Tony Bennett’s son, Dae Bennett, and turned out more than 20 Grammy and Emmy Award-winning recordings with high-profile artists including Tony Bennett himself, according to Bennett’s website.

Built in 1927, the one-time train station has a lot of history and is an important part of the history of the city, said Brown, who noted that after about six months of discussions with various groups interested in the building, the EEDC came up with four objectives they deemed “paramount” as part of its mission.

Those objectives, according to Brown, included bringing young families into Englewood’s downtown area, augmenting the “image of the downtown, strengthening the existing institutions there and reinforcing “the entertainment district that has grown” at the North end of Van Brunt.

Brown also said the EEDC didn’t want to “lose the historic nature of that railroad station” but did want to eliminate the cost of owning and maintaining the building, which he called a “burden” to the city and Englewood taxpayers.

“We didn’t have to look very far,” Brown said, referring to bergenPAC. “We have absolutely the perfect nonprofit here in Englewood with passion, financing and expertise.”

Knowing that bergenPAC was starting to run out of space for its performing arts school, Brown said the EEDC approached the organization and discussed over the course of “many months” the possibility of their expanding the school into the building and taking it off the EEDC’s, and therefore the city’s hands.

He said the discussions led to lease terms that include requirements that bergenPAC “maintain the character of the building,” pay all utilities and insurance, spend at least $150,000 “putting the building into shape” over the next 10 years and provide a $250,000 “replacement reserve” over the second 10 years of the lease.

“So this is a building that will be maintained,” Brown said. “It was very important to us that it not fall into disrepair in the years ahead.”

BergenPAC officials have said being able to use the now defunct recording studio for educational programs will double or triple the number of students the performing arts school can serve.

Speaking at the workshop Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Dominic Roncace of bergenPAC called the former Bennett Studios building “a great asset to us.”

“It will give us the ability to have a first-class facility to grow our programs,” Roncace said.

As an indication he believes the education program will grow with the addition of the former Bennett Studios building, Roncace said that in 2011, the performing arts school offered 77 classes, but that by 2017, that number is projected to be 282 classes, serving students from two months old to their early 20s. He also projected a 92 percent increase in employment over several years with the additional space the building will provide.

Roncace said more than 30,000 kids pass through the performing arts school annually, an estimated 41 percent of whom are “at-risk” youth from Bergen County and the surrounding region, and that the curriculum is comprised of four main parts: theater, dance, stage and music.

“What we’d like to really [emphasize] is not only the performing arts center, but a state-of-the-art performing arts school,” Roncace told city officials and a small contingent of community members. “We look forward to working with the city and operating the Bennett Studios, keeping it vibrant, growing it significantly and leveraging the theater and the performing arts school to make it one of the best … in the country.”

Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle said he’s proud of the history of bergenPAC and called the potential lease of the building to the organization “a long day coming.”

“Having the opportunity to really be able to teach our children that added level of the performing arts that schools, during the day, only take to a certain level, and then every child will have the ability to go the next level,” Huttle said.

City Councilman Eugene Skurnick said Englewood would be supporting a “terrific program.”

“You’re going to be running the building and responsible for maintaining or repairing everything in the building,” Skurnick told bergenPAC officials. “The city is not investing money. Whatever beaks, you’re responsible for, so I think it’s a win-win, and I wish you luck.”

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