Metuchen acquires Forum Theater, takes step toward creation of arts district

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The Borough of Metuchen now owns the historic 1927 Forum Theater on Main Street.KATHY CHANG/STAFF
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The Borough of Metuchen now owns the historic 1927 Forum Theater on Main Street.KATHY CHANG/STAFF
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  1 / 2 
The Borough of Metuchen now owns the historic 1927 Forum Theater on Main Street.KATHY CHANG/STAFF
  2 / 2 
The Borough of Metuchen now owns the historic 1927 Forum Theater on Main Street.KATHY CHANG/STAFF

METUCHEN – The Borough of Metuchen now owns the historic 1927 Forum Theater on Main Street.

Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch made the announcement on July 2 through social media.

“We are excited to announce that after nearly four months of numerous inspections and extensive negotiations, the borough closed on its purchase of the Forum Theater today,” he said.

In March, Busch signed a contract to acquire the theater from Marloe Enterprises Inc. for $1.399 million and awarded the Falcon Group a contract to provide due diligence services on the building at a cost not to exceed $16,995.

The Falcon Group, which is out of Bridgewater, is an engineering and architectural firm with a focus on restoring and evaluating buildings.

In the end, following what were termed “constructive” negotiations with the Lowery family, which owned the Forum Theater for 37 years, borough officials acquired the theater for $1.35 million.

Busch said that with the acquisition of the theater, there are a number of simultaneous steps the borough is currently acting on with respect to the Metuchen Arts District, including “working with county representatives on a variety of possibilities for the district.”

“Additionally, we will now commence more serious negotiations with the owner of the gas station and University Radiology properties,” he said.

The mayor said the acquisition of the theater was made possible with a $3.5 million grant from Middlesex County, the largest single grant Metuchen has received from the county.

In October 2018, county and borough officials came together to announce the county was allocating the grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund to help create the Metuchen Arts District.

“The acquisition of the Forum Theater will ensure the property remains a theater for future generations and it will serve as the centerpiece of the Metuchen Arts District,” Busch said. “The district will eventually result in the redevelopment and reactivation of an underused block of Main Street into a hub for arts and culture in the center of the Brainy Borough and in the heart of northern Middlesex County.”

Busch said the planned transformation will not occur overnight and will require patience and determination.

“Redevelopment projects like these often take years,” he said. “Once completed, the Metuchen Arts District will play a significant role in the borough’s resurgence as a regional destination and as a leader in the arts.”

The Metuchen Arts District is expected to include the Forum Theater along Main Street and the corner of Amboy Avenue, the site of an abandoned gas station. The acquisition of the theater is the first major step in the borough’s proposed creation of the arts district, which officials announced in August 2018.

The proposed arts district would include a renovation of the 450-seat Forum Theater and the conversion of the gas station next door into a contemporary indoor-outdoor event space and dining area called “Spot.”

Busch said the proposed arts district would not only restore the Forum Theater and create an art hub, but also create potential sustainable revenue which would lead to greater economic development and benefits for Metuchen and Middlesex County through parking fees and advertisements.

The mayor explained that since the space would be a public entity, a special concession liquor license could be considered for an interested restaurant group.