By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |
FORT MONMOUTH – Six former Army barracks buildings in Eatontown will be converted into a diverse arts community following approval last month of a purchase agreement between the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) and Red Bank businessman and arts patron Kenneth Schwartz. The as-yet-unnamed cultural center will host artists, sculptors, gallery and studio space, dance and music classes, and performances. It will also have short-term residences for artists working there.
“It’s a commercial enterprise with art-centric endeavors,” said Schwartz, who paid $200,000 for the six 1942 box-like structures on 4.4 acres in need of repairs, updates, and renovations. He will also take possession of the adjacent 2-acre Soldiers Park which must be maintained in perpetuity. Schwartz plans to turn that into a sculpture park featuring works by American and international artists. The park will be visible from vehicles driving on Route 537 (Avenue of Memories) with parking for those who choose to walk through it.
The buildings were originally slated for demolition until Schwartz approached FMERA officials with his “outside the box” plan based on similar arts communities he saw around the world. Bruce Steadman, FMERA executive director, said that while they did not initially envision such a use for the barracks, they found Schwartz’s proposal worthy of consideration.
The new culture and entertainment hub will join Schwartz’s Detour Gallery opened on Clay Street in Red Bank last year, and a renovated former stair factory nearing completion on that borough’s Drs. James Parker Boulevard that will be used for art storage, framing services, and offices.
Closing on the fort property is expected within six months. In the meantime, Schwartz and his team will go before Eatontown officials seeking design approval and building permits. The residential units intended for working artists have a limited occupation term of 30 days with a renewal option to a maximum of six months. One manager and 12 resident artist jobs will be created.
“The buildings need a lot of work,” said Schwartz. “I want the buildings themselves to look like art so they will have murals on them.” All six roofs will be replaced and plumbing, electrical, and HVAC will be modernized. New lighting will be added. Structural work includes adding rooms for the various new activities occurring there. The public will be able to view artists at work in open studios and peruse completed works in galleries. Applications are already being taken for studio space, Schwartz said.
“It will be Woodstock without the pot,” he joked. “I lived in that era. I want this place to have that vibe as well as a new vibe. I’m not an artist but I create for other people and want to assist artists and enhance the arts, not add any more businesses to my business. Creative people of any age can come, work, and be around other like-minded individuals to have a synergistic effect.” Schwartz, an arts and antiques collector for over 40 years is primarily known for his ownership of the area’s World Auto Group dealerships and a restaurant/bar in Keyport. He is also founder of the Fidelis Charitable Foundation.
“Some of the soldiers stationed at the fort were my customers at the auto dealerships,” he said. “When Fort Monmouth closed it was like a cold wind came through the area, generating a lot of nervousness. I was raised here and wanted to do this project.”
According to FMERA rules, construction must begin no later than 45 days after closing and be completed within 12 months. Schwartz is expected to invest a minimum of $500,000 to complete the project. He recently awarded the first Detour Gallery $5,000 student scholarship at the New York Academy of Arts in Tribeca.
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