Mayo Performing Arts Center seeks Morristown and state approvals for expansion

Rendering of proposed MPAC expansion, April 2024.


The Morristown zoning board, usually the town’s busiest board, has had an unusually quiet start to 2024. But members are about to be tested.

Starting on Wednesday, they will be asked to weigh the needs of a major economic engine against town policies meant to preserve the character of neighborhoods.

The Mayo Performing Arts Center, a cultural gem ranked among America’s top venues in its size class, and generating an estimated $16 million annually for the area’s economy, wants to expand.

It seeks approvals for a five-story, 28,534-square-foot addition with a rooftop terrace and “Starlight veranda” behind its South Street theater. This addition would include five offices and a board room, four studio spaces, three dressing rooms, a green room, storage rooms for pianos and wardrobes, a lobby, and a new loading dock, according to documents filed with the board.

Slideshow renderings of MPAC plans:

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Plans also call for a two-level, 85-space parking deck along Pine Street and King Place. Several MPAC-owned buildings on Pine and King would be demolished to accommodate the expansion.

MPAC sits in the Town Center Zone, and needs variances to exceed a four-story cap (the theater’s application preceded a recent zoning update that set a three-story limit), and to exceed height restrictions. MPAC proposes 80.2 feet; the allowable max is 48 feet, or 52.8 feet if a “bonus” is granted for an active ground floor use.

Variances also are required for property setbacks; wall heights; and for the number of trees and street lights, and total parking spaces, among other items.

Drawing on a decade of Morristown land use policies, the 2022 Master Plan Re-examination stated a goal of reducing building heights as one moves away from the historic Morristown Green.

Pine and DeHart streets have been identified as boundaries, where intensity should “step down” from the Green, according to an analysis of MPAC’s application by Topology, the town’s planning consultants.

The planning board has raised concerns that taller structures “would detract from the town’s historic fabric,” hasten intensive development, and create a “canyon effect” blocking light and air, Topology notes. A recommendation of the 2014 Master Plan was to  “preserve the physical character and fabric of existing neighborhoods.”

MPAC, a nonprofit doing business as the South Street Theater Co. Inc., hosts more than 200 shows per year featuring many iconic acts. It also presents a yearly community production (Beauty and the Beast opens on May 31, 2024), and runs a performing arts education program serving thousands of children.

It must prove the expansion’s benefits would outweigh any detrimental impacts to the neighborhood and town policies. The theater also must pass muster with the state Historic Preservation Office, a branch of the Department of Environmental Protection.

In a January letter to MPAC, that office said the expansion “constitutes an encroachment upon the Morristown Historic District.”

“The proposed project will result in the demolition of three contributing resources to the district and the construction of a sizeable addition that is out of scale with the surrounding historic properties. As such, the proposed undertaking does not meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties,” Administrator Katherine J. Marcopul wrote.

MPAC officials declined to comment ahead of this week’s zoning board hearing, scheduled for April 3, 2024, via Zoom.

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  1. @ Warren – here we are again. Another comment throwing crp across the room and nothing constructive. So what – just leave it alone once again is your solution correct?

  2. It will be interesting to see if this roof top structure gets the same level of scrutiny / objection that others have gone through.

  3. I think this project is getting backlash due to all the other large, over development projects that have been approved recently. The theater is a great amenity and its nice to see it thrive. I would like to see them hire a cop to direct traffic at South and Pine before and after shows tho.

  4. I think this project is getting the backlash from so many other over development projects approved in Town. The theater is a great amenity and its fantastic the comeback and success it has been having. I would like to see them hire a police officer to control the traffic flow at South and Pine on show nights tho.

  5. I can’t imagine why this is not a welcomed expansion. I’d love to see a bigger entertainment venue, rather than the expansion of ‘entertainment’ that is now a bar-central row on South Street. Love the liveliness that bars bring, but love more the civility that comes with a cultural hub.

  6. To not allow this would be complete lunacy. Amazing for town to attract larger entertainers.

    Enough already with the parking argument. You will never have enough parking for a large hall in the middle of downtown.

  7. If it will be permitted to expand in this manner, it needs sufficient parking on site to support its events, or in the alternative, it should be funding the construction of the cancelled/stalled parking deck on Dumont.