For Sara Scully, executive director of the Hopewell Theater, reimaging the Hopewell Theater into a multiuse venue is a matter of learning from the success of iPic and others in New York, and bringing a similar formula to the town of Hopewell.
“The idea was to create a space that is comfortable to give people that elevated experience,” she said. “If you’re committed about the arts and film and music, it’s not enough to have great art anymore. You have to have a reason for people to leave their house and put down their phones and be together.”
In 205, a joint-venture of local business owners Mitchell Skolnick, Jon McConaughy and Liza Moorehouse acquired the property three years ago, formerly known as the Off-Broadstreet Theater, and decided to reinvent the 135-year-old theater under the direction of Scully.
And after a $3 million investment, the Hopewell Theater was officially re-opened on Sept. 8. The venue, which in the past has been used for dramatic entertainment will now house musical, cinematic and performing arts.
Skolnick said he and the other partners had first envisioned a traditional theater to be housed at the venue, but preferred the idea of a hybrid theater for a variety of uses.
“We wanted to preserve (parts of the building),” he said. “The red trusses are the original trusses, that ceiling is the original ceiling, those beams that run across are all the original beams. It’s an attachment to the past, it gives you an opportunity to look at past and this is what it evolved into.
“We realized we could make this building to satisfy the needs of a lot of talent. We could have movies, we could have singer/songwriters, we could have the light technology, we have the sound technology, so we can do a lot here. We can’t do everything for everyone, but we can certainly do mostly everything for the townies.”
Scully said that for a town like Hopewell, having an old venue fitted with the necessary technology and equipment to allow for a wide-range of entertainers and performers has always been the vision for Hopewell Theater.
“We occupy a special niche in the area in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish here because, most of the places you can go out and enjoy live music, you’re either in a bar or you’re in formal theater,” she said. “We really wanted to have that hybrid feeling where it’s warm and welcoming and you can feel like you’re in a club, but more elegant. Like a jazz club, but you can also have a great cultural experience with beautiful sound and lighting, with state-of-the-art technology.”
The co-owners selected Robert Cerutti out of Princeton and Baxter Construction to carry out the design renovations, and received no incentives from the local administration.
Hopewell Theater is set to benefit from the local partnerships the co-owners have created, Skolnick said. Jon McConaughy, one of the co-owners of the venue and owner of the local Brick Farm Market will sell food at the venue alongside Bent Spoon and Peasant Grill.
“Part of the mission statement, and this gets back to why John thought this theater is important, was to connect it and integrate it with the community,” he said. “We’ve instilled a formula, we know what we want to develop, but it’s still needs to be tweaked and it’s going to be modified and touched up here and there. I think it’s going to take a couple of years and once we have that I wouldn’t be surprised if we carry that elsewhere.”
Scully and Skolnick said for now, the focus of the production company and the theater is to build an audience now that the theater is moving in a different direction. The partners said they expect to begin seeing a significant return on their investments in three years.
“It’s huge that people would have the vision for people to say ‘We’re going to keep this place as a place for the arts,’” Scully said. “I think it was a great business decision, but I think it’s also a great asset to the community. We came together and said what are we going to do here and came up with a unique vision that has a nice niche in this area.
“But, it also capitalizes on the success of dine-in theaters. In the West Coast, there are dine-in theaters all over. In the last few years there are all these dine-in theaters that are club-style cropping up in New York”