ATLANTIC CITY - A newly reopened Dante Hall Center for the Performing Arts will be an integral part of the resort's planned arts district, providing a space for community theater and productions as well as serving as an anchor for the undertaking, officials said.
"We are going to run it as it was supposed to be run: a small-community theater," said Alex Marino, who oversees Atlantic City's Carnegie Library for the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Marino said he has received more than a half-dozen inquiries from organizations interested in hosting events there since the announcement from the school Wednesday. He said he hopes to soon announce an event for later this month.
Marino said there had also been talks with nearby restaurants and The Walk shopping district about potential tie-ins.
"We've done a lot of homework over the last year and a half, and now the doors are open and we have to put everything together," Marino said.
Stockton President Herman J. Saatkamp Jr. said operating the theater fits with the school's mission to provide a place for the arts, as well as providing the initial footprint of the arts district and work to revitalize the Ducktown neighborhood.
The theater is owned by the adjoining St. Michael's Church, whose pastor Jeffrey Cesarone said he thinks the collaboration will be a great benefit to the neighborhood and parish.
Stockton Affiliated Services Inc., an allied nonprofit the school uses for some business affairs, signed a lease with St. Michael's on June 1 to operate the 230-seat theater at 14 N. Mississippi Ave.
The lease requires SASI to pay $1,200 a year for three years, with three one-year renewal options. It also requires SASI to cover costs of insurance, maintenance and cleaning.
The lease requires the hall to be used as a public theater per earlier agreements with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which sponsored a $3.5 million renovation seven years ago.
The 18-page document also gives Camden Diocese Bishop Joseph A. Galante veto power over what can take place in the hall.
Dante Hall cannot be used for events "that are contrary or offensive to or incompatible with the activities, doctrines, ethics, goals, morals, opinions, principles, teachings or tenets of the Roman Catholic Church" or the spirit of those beliefs, the lease says.
The lease also specifies that the "ordinary of the Diocese of Camden," or the person who exercises jurisdiction, will be the sole authority on what does and does not violate the agreement.
The ordinary is Galante, diocese spokesman Peter Feuerherd confirmed.
The lease says the hall also cannot be used for political events or legislative lobbying, per federal law regarding nonprofits.
The CRDA soon will announce an arts-district manager, said Jeremy R. Sunkett, director of project development. He said the CRDA also will discuss the results of an artist survey at Dante Hall on June 28 and would formally launch a survey on potentially building artist housing in the district.
Sunkett said the agency did not have a direct role in the final negotiations between the church and school but remained interested in the outcome. He said the hall will serve as an arts-district anchor, along with Boardwalk Hall and the under-construction Christopher Columbus Mixed-Use Center now going up on the corner of Fairmount and Mississippi avenues.
The hall has long lain dormant, and its door was closed and locked Thursday.
Dante Hall's myspace.com profile was last updated in June 2009, and its former Internet address, dantehall.org, was acquired by a place-holding Seattle, Wash., company in May 2010, according to Internet domain registration information.
Neither the hall's telephone nor fax line was not in service Thursday afternoon.
Around the Ducktown neighborhood, where construction continued for the latest expansion of The Walk, people were encouraged by Stockton's expanded role.
Inside the nearby White House Sub Shop at the corner of North Mississippi and Arctic avenues, restaurant employee Ed Manzini, 61, said he thought it would be good since he believes it will lead to more events at the center.
"We'll have the arts finally in the area," said Manzini, of Egg Harbor Township. "It will be nice."
Manzini said he thought the hall should be better lighted and made more inviting.
Rob Nistico, 42, said he supports the prospect of more events at the hall.
"It'd be great, you know what I mean?" said the restaurant employee. "Something like that, other than some shopping."
Across Arctic Avenue at Formica's Bakery and Cafe, Maurice Pisano, 55, of Estell Manor, said he thinks the expanded role is a good idea.
Resort Mayor Lorenzo Langford said he also supports Stockton's expanded role and that he hopes it works out.
"I only see it getting better. Hopefully we can make more use, have more events going on in the facility" such as pageants, small jazz concerts and plays, he said.
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