Upgrade Part Of $135M Project

Mixed-use project planned next to downtown Montclair, N.J., theater

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: January 23, 2018

Apartments, retail, restaurants and office space are planned around the theater. (Greenwood Development)

The Wellmont Theater, nearly a century old, is going through a major redevelopment, with upgrades designed to improve the event-day experience for both the acts and attendees, the theater's ownership group says.

The 2,500-capacity venue in downtown Montclair, N.J., is co-owned by Pinnacle Cos., Brookfield Properties and Greenwood Development, three real estate firms. Together, they’re investing $135 million to develop a mixed-use district tied to the theater.

A key piece of the project involves construction of a parking garage next to the club to park tour buses and provide direct access backstage for the artists. Currently, the acts unload equipment at the facility’s front door and the performers must walk through the public to get into the building.

The garage will make available 250 spaces for ticket holders, said David Genova, a principal with Greenwood Development. Parking now is restricted to neighborhood streets and some nearby municipal lots.

The mixed-use piece encompasses 3.5 acres that will include 200 apartments, retail, restaurants and office space. The concept includes converting the street fronting the theater to a plaza featuring live entertainment, vendors and concessions, similar to the Highline in New York, Genova said. The idea is to create activity on the plaza on event days and when the theater is dark, he said.

Construction is expected to start in mid-May and take up to three years to complete, officials said. The venue will remain open and has shows booked into June.

“We’re creating sort of a mini-campus with year-round programming,” said Anthony Morrison, hired about a month ago as the Wellmont’s general manager. “I’m trying to help get this place to the next level.”

Morrison spent 12 years in facility operations with the Philadelphia Phillies, which included producing concerts at Citizens Bank Park. He also worked for CID Entertainment and most recently the Prince Theater, a performing arts center in Philly.

In New Jersey, the Wellmont’s owners have spent $2 million alone to repair the ceiling and install sound and lighting upgrades after acquiring the theater in 2015.

Separately, ownership spent $1 million to build a new full-service restaurant next door where patrons can have dinner before the show and the theater can schedule meet-and-greet sessions with artists. The Pharmacie Liquor Bar, the name of the restaurant, opened last week with seating for 100, Genova said.

The Wellmont Theater dates to 1922, when it opened as a vaudeville house in Montclair, which sits about 12 miles west of Manhattan. Over the next decade, it became a movie theater and stayed under that format until Greenwood Development initially purchased the venue in 2006 and turned into a concert facility. Greenwood then sold the building before re-acquiring it in 2015. Live Nation has an exclusive deal to book events.

The Wellmont’s competitors include Starland Ballroom, run by AEG Presents/Bowery Presents and situated in Sayreville, about 30 miles south of Montclair. The Starland ranked No. 11 on Pollstar's list of Top 200 club venues ranked by ticket sales for 2017.

Greenwood principals feel the mixed-use project will help the Wellmont keep up with all the competition. Montclair, a city of about 40,000 residents, already has a busy downtown district with multiple restaurants, a jazz club and an art museum. Late night television personality Stephen Colbert, cosmetics queen Bobbi Brown both live in Montclair, as does “half the New York Times' edit staff” Genova said.

“Vogue magazine described Montclair as the ‘new Brooklyn,’” he said. “The Wellmont is a big driver of all the activity and the largest generator of people in the downtown area.” 

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: January 23, 2018