The Bellevue Theatre is one step closer to reopening its doors. 

The Montclair Planning Board unanimously passed a resolution Monday recommending a redevelopment plan for the theater to the Township Council. 

If the council passes the plan, it would let Bellevue Theatre owner Jesse Sayegh and his daughter Doreen, the theater’s director and president, renovate and eventually reopen the property. It has been shuttered since 2017, when longtime leasee Bow Tie Cinemas pulled out. 

The agenda for the next Township Council meeting, April 19, has not been posted as of Thursday, April 14.

resolution to approve facade changes at the theater is also up for approval by the Historic Preservation Commission at its Thursday, April 14 meeting. The building’s signature green marquee, with signature Gothic font, would remain, but be painted black. And the storefront would receive new siding, a bronze door and a glass panel. 

“The loss of the theater was a real blow to the neighborhood,” Preservation Commission member Michael Graham said at a meeting on March 24.

In October of last year, Township Council members designated the theater property as an area in need of rehabilitation, saying they wanted to offer tax abatements and relax some zoning requirements to help get the theater reopened. 

The property is currently in a neighborhood commercial zone, where theaters are not normally permitted. The redevelopment agreement would allow a theater as a permitted use as long as 50% of the building is used as a movie theater. As the theater currently has no parking, but codes require four spaces for every seat, the draft agreement states that no parking would be required as well if the owners maintain the 50% theater space.  

It would require existing features of the historic Tudor-style revival building to be preserved, with a height restriction of three stories. 

From left, Deputy Mayor and First Ward Councilor Bill Hurlock, Bellevue Theatre President Doreen Sayegh, Mayor Sean Spiller, May 18, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
From left, Deputy Mayor and First Ward Councilman Bill Hurlock, Bellevue Theatre President Doreen Sayegh and Mayor Sean Spiller announce plans last spring to reopen the theater. KATE ALBRIGHT / FILE PHOTO

While the theater had 885 theater seats in four theaters and 5,000 square feet of personal service retail space under Bow Tie, new plans call for 400 seats, spread farther apart. The redevelopment plan would allow uses on the first floor including retail stores, personal service establishments, restaurants and cafes, educational play centers and health clubs.  Business and professional offices, excluding medical offices, and multifamily dwellings would be allowed above the first floor. The owners have said they intend to include apartments in the redevelopment.

After authorization of a separate ordinance to enable it, the plan would also allow a phased-in tax abatement on the building over five years, which would grant the developers time to invest in the building, Planner Janice Talley has said. 

The current annual taxes on the property of $66,506 would be required to be paid each year, while tax increases caused by the improvements would be paid in increments starting at 20% and increasing each year until 100% is reached after five years. 

At last month’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting, Jesse Sayegh said that more renovations are planned in the future, but his main goal was to get the theater up and running. 

“Right now we are concentrating on the reopening of the theater and restoring the storefront only, at this point, to be presentable,” he said. 

The Bellevue operated continuously for 95 years until its closure. In the spring of 2021, its owners had originally announced their intention to open later that year or early this year, but haven’t yet announced an updated timetable.