Renew Theaters will operate Princeton Garden Theatre

April 1, 2014 10:40 a.m.

Renew Theaters, a nonprofit organization with 21 years of experience running community movie theaters, has been selected to operate the historic Princeton Garden Theatre on Nassau Street. The lease agreement between Renew Theaters and Princeton University, which owns the property, will take effect June 1.

The Garden Theatre, which opened in 1920 with a showing of the silent film "Civilian Clothes," is a two-screen theater frequented by the University and greater Princeton community. The facility is currently leased by Garden Theatre Inc.

"The University is excited to welcome Renew Theaters as the new operator for the Garden Theatre," said Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget. "The theater serves the entire Princeton community — town and gown — so we are especially interested in the diverse programming that Renew offers. We look forward to them becoming a vibrant part of the cultural opportunities offered in town."

Renew Theaters runs three historic movie theaters in Pennsylvania: the Ambler Theater in Ambler, the County Theater in Doylestown and the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown. The theaters focus on showing art, independent and world films; educating patrons about film through diverse community and family programs; and engaging with businesses and community organizations to host special screenings, classes and events.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for Renew," said Renew Theaters Executive Director John Toner. "We are very community-based in our operations and we are looking forward to forming partnerships with local art groups, service groups, student groups and faculty members who might be interested in using the theater."

Paul LaMarche, the University's vice provost for space programming and planning, said the University has three goals for the Garden Theatre: provide a great place to screen movies and related events for various communities; provide programming sourced by students in off-hours; and have the opportunity for screenings for academic programs, primarily during the daytime on weekdays.

"We are excited by the enthusiasm that our new partners at Renew Theaters bring to help achieve these goals," LaMarche said.

Toner said film education is a key component of Renew Theaters' mission.

"We regularly schedule film discussions, introductions by local experts, and question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers and industry professionals," Toner said. "We look forward to working with the University to broaden these offerings to include guest appearances of faculty members, student film presentations, lectures and more."

The University purchased the Garden Theatre in 1993 and the building underwent a $1 million renovation from 2000-01. This past summer, the University made significant improvements to modernize the facility, upgrading the theater's analog projection system to a digital cinema system with new projection, surround sound and movie screens.

Renew plans to further improve the theater's design, operations and services. The theater is expected to be closed for a month for renovations to the lobby, theaters and concession stand, and other maintenance work throughout the building.

"We want the building to better fit the classic nature of the theater and upscale nature of the community," Toner said. "We have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for this project, and we hope the Garden Theatre will be reborn as a downtown arts venue and cultural destination."

A University committee with representatives from Community and Regional Affairs, Facilities, University Services and the Office of the Provost reviewed proposals for new operators of the Garden Theatre before selecting Renew Theaters. An advisory committee including representatives from the Graduate School, Lewis Center for the Arts and Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students assisted.