The Bridge Street Foundation, the parent group of both the newly renovated Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope and the proposed Lambertville Hall, has been attracting audiences on both sides of the river.
In New Hope, the historically important theater venue is garnering positive press and word of mouth for its quality professional productions, such as the recent world premiere of American playwright Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons.”
In Lambertville, the yet to be opened music hall is attracting standing room audiences at township hearings for the required zoning variance that would allow the former First Baptist Church to be transformed into a 450-seat music center with restaurant and bar. So far there have been mixed reviews, and the application for the variance has been temporarily withdrawn.
The show biz ups and downs are business as usual for the organization that announced its plans last summer and has been producing results.
The Bridge Street Foundation is the nonprofit family foundation of Kevin and Sherri Daugherty. Taking its name from the thoroughfare that spans the Delaware River and connects the towns, the foundation was established “to support the local community through the acquisition of important historic landmarks and aiding in their transition into self-sustaining contributors to the community.”
Kevin Daugherty is the founder of the private equity firm Speyside Equity; the Philadelphia-based company with partners in Europe acquires and rebuilds underperforming businesses. Sherri Daugherty is the owner of the New Hope boutique Angel Hearts.
The foundation, along with the now dissolved Bucks County Theater Preservation organization, purchased the playhouse that faced demolition after problems including weak productions, financial woes, flood damage, and vacancy.
With more than $3 million of renovations, the foundation contracted Broadway theater producer Jed Bernstein to reopen the theater last summer.
Bernstein was the head of the League of American Theaters and Producers (now the Broadway League) for 11 years and gained a reputation for establishing corporate sponsorship and initiated internet practices, such as the use of the Internet Broadway Database. It provides records of productions from the beginnings of New York theater until the present day.
“Anyone who considers himself a theater person knows the history of the Bucks County Playhouse and how important it was,” he said last year at the opening of its new season. “It’s an exciting opportunity for me for two reasons: one is that it allows me to bring artists who I work with in other geographic areas to work on material here. And the second is that so much of my life is about making theater important in whatever community it’s in.”
For this inaugural summer season Bernstein engaged, in addition to award winning playwright McNally, established performers Tyne Daly and Andrea McArdle. Three more main stage productions are set as is a winter holiday presentation.
In Lambertville the spotlight and discussion is on parking. Lambertville, like New Hope, is a small yet densely populated community. High visitor automobile traffic and limited parking are ongoing problems. The romanesque designed church was built 144 years before the need of a parking lot.
The Lambertville Hall Foundation (LBH), created by Bridge Street, made the request for the variance and changes.
While the idea of a music hall is acceptable, traffic and potential changes to the downtown community are concerns for residents and business owners. LBH’s proposal to secure parking and provide shuttle services to the venue — as does Bucks County Playhouse — did not appease concerns.
“Hearing concerns of the community inspired our decision. We are, therefore, temporarily withdrawing our application to refocus our efforts to best reflect the communities’ input and preferences, with respect to rescuing and re-purposing this architectural landmark,” said Tanya Cooper, president of the Bridge Street Foundation, in a press release.
Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio said, in the same release, “I applaud the Bridge Street Foundation for taking this proactive step. While we all want to see the live arts flourish in Lambertville, it is obvious that this proposal had issues that needed to be addressed. I appreciate the foundation’s commitment to our city, and I look forward to working with them on a new proposal that can best meet our shared values.”
Meanwhile, as the show goes on in New Hope, there is a cast change: BCP producer Bernstein recently announced that he will leave to become president of Lincoln Center.
That’s a lot of water and activity under the bridge in New Hope and Lambertville.