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PHILADELPHIA-Seeded with $15 million from the state’s redevelopment assistance capital program, ground has been broken for the $35-million Mount Laurel Center for the Performing Arts in Bushkill, PA in the Poconos. The 675-acre site is the former Unity House, a retreat since the early 1900s for members of the International Ladies Garment Workers. It was abandoned in 1989.

The campus, located on an 85-acre lake, includes a 55,000-sf Cultural Arts & Benefactors Building, which is being converted into administrative offices, galleries and workshops; an 11,000-sf boathouse that seats 500, and a theatre that seats 1,200.

A new structure, the Tom Ridge Pavilion, named after the former state governor and current head of homeland security, will be an open air venue with covered seating for 5,000 and lawn seating for 5,000.

Organizers have obtained approximately $3 million in private funding, and areseeking to double that sum. The US Department of Agriculture’s rural development community facilities program has provided a $14.5-million 90% loan guarantee to support the center’s operations for three years.

Envisioned as an arts mecca, partially modeled after Tanglewood in Massachusetts, the Mount Laurel center is scheduled to open on Memorial Day, 2003. The Pittsburgh Symphony will make the center its summer home.

Organizers say they also have performance commitments from New York’s American Ballet Theatre, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and the Philadelphia Orchestra along with a wide range of jazz, theatre and cabaret groups.

This is in keeping with the tradition of Unity House, which once hosted theatrical and musical performances by such notables as Jerome Robbins, Sid Caesar and Mary Rodgers.

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