A nonprofit group of executives from the Markeim Arts Center, Haddonfield Plays & Players, and Dance Haddonfield are fundraising to turn a vacant, borough-owned property into an arts and cultural center.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 13, 2016
At the beginning of 2016, Haddonfield’s historic Boxwood Hall was a property for which the borough was seeking a new owner.
As the year draws to a close, it may have found one.
Bought for $1.8 million in 2014 to settle a developer’s lawsuit, the property has been identified as the prospective site for a state-of-the-art performance venue that would provide downtown facilities for Haddonfield Plays and Players, the Markeim Arts Center, and Dance Haddonfield.
Plans for the space are being drafted by the nonprofit Boxwood Arts Theatre and Cultural Center, an organization founded by a group of borough residents.
Its executive committee chair, Haddonfield Plays and Players President Dave Stavetski, said that although the project is still in its conceptual phase, the group has identified a chief donor and drafted preliminary architectural designs from Arcari and Iovino, the firm behind the recent renovation of the borough library.
Those plans are not yet ready for public presentation, but include a vision for the site that would create “a multi-purpose theater venue with superior acoustics, a ballroom, and [space for] other classes,” Stavetski said.
“The project is much larger than Plays and Players or Markeim,” he said. “It’s all of us coming together to build something that’s beautiful and fabulous for the region.”
With a 365-seat capacity, the venue would be about the same size as the Arden Theater, Stavetski said, making it suitable for intimate performances, film screenings, and speaking engagements.
The lower level of the facility would hold a competitive-grade dance floor, and could double as a rental venue for private events. The existing house on the property, which served most recently as a real estate office, would be converted into an art gallery. Critically, the Boxwood plan includes preservation of the heritage woods at the rear of the property, offering a historic backdrop to the programming, Stavetski said.
“The grounds and the house are very important to us,” he said. “We intend to beautify the entire site, [and] turning a historic home into an art gallery is a low-impact use for that historic building.”
After the theater is built,Stavetski said Plays and Players and the Markeim still would continue to operate their current locations, which are farther removed from the property at 65 North Haddon Avenue. Both groups believe their current locations have value to their respective organizations; they also believe they will broaden audiences for their creations with a venue closer to the Kings Highway central business district.
“Haddonfield has great schools, great sports teams, and great arts facilities,” Stavetski said.
“This is a way of bringing it to the downtown. There’s different programming elements that appeal to different people, and we envision a lot of collaboration with the Haddonfield community and beyond.”
Markeim Arts Center Chief Operating Officer Bob Hochgertel said that converting Boxwood Hall into “a public face” for both organizations could help generate economic interest in the Haddonfield business district, too.
“Every dollar spent on arts and culture brings $8 back to the region,” Hochgertel said. “It has so many opportunities and facets to it.
“Our plan is not doing away with this [site], but improving and lifting it up for the community.”
It’s an upside that Haddonfield Mayor Jeffrey Kasko said borough commissioners acknowledge as well—although in the absence of a formal concept plan, he’s withholding judgment.
“It could be a really nice anchor to attract people,” the mayor said. “They’re hopefully going to park, shop, and eat in town. My reservations are about preserving the building and about traffic and car parking.”
Kasko said that any plan to install an arts center in Boxwood Hall “needs to be something sustainable and workable.” He isn’t certain whether the borough could gift the land to a nonprofit, and said he’d prefer that the site be able to generate tax revenues.
Still, Kasko believes that an arts center could work at Boxwood Hall.
“It looks like a really interesting plan,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have more updates in the next couple of weeks.”
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