New Brunswick cuts the ribbon on its new Performing Arts Center

It’s one of a number of new buildings in the heart of New Brunswick, but officials hope the gleaming high-rise will play a special role in this university town’s ongoing effort to remake itself.

The 23-story tower at Livingston Avenue and George Street is the home of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, and hundreds were on hand this week for its official opening.

Among them was David Saint, artistic director of the George Street Playhouse, whose company will now be based there.

“I stood on the stage in front of the curtain, and it was a dream come true,” he said. “For me, it was like a kid at Christmas. It was the best Christmas present one could ever have.”

A total of four companies will be housed in the 450,000-square-foot building ­— the American Repertory Ballet, Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts, and the Crossroads Theater. The new structure, with multiple floors of residences above, was built on the former site of the George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theater.

In all, the new performing arts center comprises two theaters — one with 463 seats, the other, with 252 — multiple rehearsal spaces, a lobby bar and 207 rental apartments, with a swimming pool on the roof. It cost $178 million to build, officials say.

“It probably took 12 years to imagine it and figure out how to do it, and 22 months to build it,” said Christopher Paladino, the president of the New Brunswick Development Corporation.

The new performing arts center is one of several projects reshaping this central New Jersey city that’s home to Rutgers’ main campus. During the opening ceremony, Mayor James Cahill recounted some of the history.

“It goes back to the 1970s when New Brunswick was a city in decline — when community change makers, local artists and elected officials, reinvigorated the arts here in our city as a transformative force in New Brunswick, serving as an economic engine but also fueling the heart and soul of our community,” he said.

Saint sees a special benefit to having multiple art companies sharing one space.

“You feel the lobby is thriving with activity, a beehive of people,” he said. “And at the same time people might say, ‘oh, we’re seeing this show in that theater tonight,’ ‘oh, we saw that last week, we’re going to this one tonight.’ So that kind of synergy brings energy to a performing arts center.”

“Paul Robeson,” a play commemorating the 100th anniversary of the icon’s graduation from Rutgers, is already playing at the center.

Saint said the center is already catching the attention of Broadway players.

“Even for next season, I’m lining up all sorts of Tony-winning directors and designers and composers and writers,” he said, “because they see this facility and say, ‘I want my show done there. That’s a great place to try it out.’”