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Work could begin in November on Frenchtown ArtYard $10 million gallery-restaurant complex


Work on ArtYard’s new $10 million theater and gallery in downtown Frenchtown will begin in late November, starting with the demolition of the old chicken hatchery that stands there now.

That’s if the necessary permits are issued in a timely fashion, says Jill Kearney, executive director of ArtYard, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the arts. “We anticipate construction will take 12 to18 months depending on weather conditions,” she says.

The path to construction was cleared by two municipal decisions. On Sept. 26 the Frenchtown Planning Board granted final site plan approval, and on Oct. 3 Borough Council approved its redevelopment agreement with ArtYard.

After final approval was given, Planning Board Chair Randi Eckel, told the Herald, “I’m looking forward to the transformation it will make to that part of town. And it will be great for the borough as a whole.”

The proposed 20,900-square-foot building where Front Street curves into Lott Street would contain an art gallery; ArtYard offices; and a 162-seat theater with stadium-style seating. Its footprint would be 30 percent smaller than the structures there now. The site is a few feet below the 100-year-flood level, so the ground floor would be elevated. On the other side of Lott Street, a 29-space parking lot would replace a former Thai restaurant.

Meanwhile, ArtYard’s artistic enterprises are going strong in temporary quarters at 62 Trenton Avenue. ArtYard owns the building and rents space to the popular Lovin’ Oven restaurant. It was constructed in 1979 for light industrial use by Aries Electronics.

No decision has been made yet on the future of that building. Kearney says, “It will probably serve as the artist makerspaces and workspace for the residency program, but we won’t determine that until after our current building project is completed and we hear more about what artists and the community needs.”

The ArtYard Residency brings artists to Frenchtown, where they reside in ArtYard’s Trenton Avenue house, which is directly across from the cemetery. “In the future we see that building being the focal point of our ‘residency program’ that has a clear set of goals and can truly serve as an incubator for creative expression and the source of meaningful collaborations. The poet Patrick Rosal stayed there recently, and all of the artists exhibiting in the current show,” Kearney said on Oct. 4. “In the meantime we are developing an intensive residential workshop with visiting poets such as Ross Gay and Gabriella Calvocoressi.”

In other Frenchtown redevelopment news, a three-duplex plan by Aram Papazian and Gabe Plumer also received final approval on Sept. 26. A disused industrial cinderblock building on that property was demolished earlier this year.