Count Basie Theatre breaks ground on $23 million expansion

September 20, 2017
The Count Basie Theatre is looking to the future.

The landmark Red Bank venue broke ground on its $23 million expansion on Wednesday afternoon. The project, first announced in 2015, will nearly double the size of the Monmouth Street destination.

 The ground-breaking ceremony also included the announcement of the Jay and Linda Grunin Arts and Education Building.

Made possible through a $2 million gift from the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, the site to the west of the current theater will be home to studios, classrooms and administration offices for the Basie's arts education efforts, in addition to a second performance space.

"We are truly excited to be able to play a small part in a project that is sure to make a tremendous impact on our cultural and educational landscape," said Jay Grunin, co-founder and co-chair of the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation. "The alignment of the missions of the Basie and the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation and the designation of this space as the Jay and Linda Grunin Arts and Education Building makes this a perfect marriage, and one that we fully expect to build on for many years to come."

The campaign has been endorsed by E Street Band guitarist and Middletown native Steven Van Zandt and his wife Maureen, who serve as honorary campaign co-chairs and are members of the Basie's board of trustees. The Van Zandts have been vocal advocates for private citizens funding the arts and arts education.

"It seemed like the right idea at the right time, and it's nice to see the whole community coming out to support it," Steven Van Zandt said following Wednesday's ceremony. "I think, in a funny way, the national government not providing a good example (of arts funding) in this case is probably healthy, in terms of stimulating and motivating people. ... The local people have really risen to the occasion, and that's nice to see."

Theater officials said construction on the expansion project, which will convert its section of Monmouth Street into a full-city-block arts and education complex, is expected to last 18 to 24 months.

"Music and the performing arts, arts in general, they not only entertain us but they make us laugh, sometimes they make us cry, they inspire us, uplift us," said U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), at Wednesday's ceremony. "(The arts) challenges us to think outside the box and touches us deep within our soul. It helps define us as a culture, and our artists make us a better society."

Maureen Van Zandt, who has performed with the students of the Basie's Rockit Live Foundation, discussed the vital importance of the expansion in advancing the theater's arts education mission.

"It's going to be great for theater, for dance as well, and it's really important," she said. "You have to start (arts education) at that age and instill that passion and love into kids."

"As I always say, we're the only country in the world that thinks art is a luxury," added Steven Van Zandt. "It's not (a luxury), it's an essential part of the quality of life, and we have to encourage that wherever possible."

The Grunin building will also feature the Rock n' Rohl Rooftop Lounge, named after donors Mark and Denise Rohl.
"We are delighted to break ground today on the expansion and updating of the historic Count Basie Theatre," said Count Basie Theatre board of trustees chairman Tom Widener in a statement. "It is a momentous day, and one that could not have happened without the support of many people and organizations.

"Particular thanks are due to the Grunin Foundation and my fellow board member Jeremy Grunin, plus Citi, the Asbury Park Press, Nancy Mulheren, Carol Stillwell, Maryann Larkin, Maggie Riker, Mark and Karey Hogan, the Rohls, my wife Janet and me and many others in making significant gifts to this campaign."

The expansion will also bolster the building's eastern side with an expanded, glass-walled lobby, a concessions area and an outdoor performing arts plaza.

The 90-year-old Basie will also receive new air conditioning and heating systems, an elevator and expanded restroom facilities, in addition to a modernized backstage area and updated production technologies.

The Basie is a nonprofit operation and the Asbury Park Press is among the top donors to the campaign, originally announced in October 2015. By November 2016, the Basie had announced that it was nearing the halfway point in the campaign.

In March, the venue commemorated its main stage as the Asbury Park Press Stage at the Count Basie Theatre.

NK Architects of Morristown designed and is overseeing the expansion along with Ben Harvey Construction of Long Branch and M. Silberman Interior Design of Shrewsbury.  In a statement, Adam Philipson, the president and CEO of the Basie said that bids for the project will be announced shortly.  

"We're not just breaking ground on a new building and an expanded Count Basie Theatre," Philipson told the crowd at Wednesday's ceremony. "We're breaking ground on a symbol of the importance of the arts and education to this community, a symbol of how much we value the ability of the arts to transform lives and to bring hope."

Asbury Park Press
Story By Alex Biese