Longtime Gardner dance center eyeing former church for new studio

·4 min read

GARDNER – A longtime downtown business is searching for a new home.

After 12 years, the Just Dance! Performing Arts Center must leave its rented space at 48 Parker St. because the building has been sold and is being redeveloped.

Rebecca Wilson, who opened the studio in 2010, said she was initially disappointed by the news that she would have to move her business, but now her focus is on finding a new location.

“I feel like I went through all the stages of grieving, like denial and anger,” Wilson explained. “By now, I’m definitely in the acceptance stage, and I’m looking to just move forward and hopefully the next place we’re at will be better. That’s the goal.”

Friends of Just Dance! Performing Arts Center owner Rebecca Wilson help remove the studio's sign after the business' last day in the Ryan Block building in downtown Gardner.
Friends of Just Dance! Performing Arts Center owner Rebecca Wilson help remove the studio's sign after the business' last day in the Ryan Block building in downtown Gardner.

Wilson, who said more than 200 students were enrolled at her dance center, said she was grateful for the support from the community. Her business is on temporary hold while she searches for a new studio location.

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“I can’t say enough good things about (their support),” she said. “So many people have reached out with suggestions. And my dance families are saying they’ll follow me wherever I go. It really makes me feel good and keeps me motivated. It’s nice to know that I do have a great support system.”

The Gardner Redevelopment Authority (GRA) purchased the Ryan Block property that housed the center from landlord Dean Marcus in 2017, with the intention of marketing the building for redevelopment. The GRA also purchased the adjacent property at 52 Parker Street.

In late 2021, it was announced the two buildings – which are connected internally - had been sold to Mass Ave Realty, which was selected by the city based on its detailed plans to renovate the entire property into residential housing. City officials delayed closing of the deal until June 1, 2022, to give Just Dance! time to find a new location.

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“Obviously, we wanted (Rebecca) to stay downtown,” said Trevor Beauregard, executive director of the GRA. “My intention was always to keep the dance studio there, but unfortunately I can’t control everything.”

The building’s new owners told city officials that, because of the noise and other factors, it wouldn’t be feasible to try and rent out apartments that were next to a dance studio. In Dec. 2021, the city hired a relocation specialist, Stephen Mollica of Leominster, to help Just Dance! find a new location in the city.

“(Stephen’s) a great guy,” Wilson said. “He would call and check in with me each week, and once in a while he would send me some places to check out, so that was good.”

Among the properties considered were the Timpany Crossroads Plaza and the former Gardner News building.

In May, Wilson decided to pursue the search for a new location without the assistance of Mollica, according to city officials. She was given a one-time lump sum payment of $69,500 by the GRA to assist in her relocation efforts.

Among the possible future locations for the Just Dance! center is the former church on Lincoln Street in Gardner, according to studio owner Rebecca Wilson.
Among the possible future locations for the Just Dance! center is the former church on Lincoln Street in Gardner, according to studio owner Rebecca Wilson.

Wilson has been eyeing property at 69 Lincoln St. for her new location, after it was suggested by some of the parents at her studio. She said the building, a former church, would be more than suitable to house her business.

“In my mind, it’s perfect for a dance studio,” she said. “It’s similar to what we (had), with big open spaces and high ceilings.”

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In some ways, she added, the new possible location would even be an improvement over her old address. She said it is on a quieter street and has a parking lot, which would make it easier for parents to pick up and drop off their children at dance.

“But nothing is definite yet,” she cautioned. “We’re working with the Gardner Zoning Board and the Building Department to get proper approval of everything.”

“Hopefully, (the new location) works out, because we really want to keep (Rebecca) in the city,” Beauregard said.

Wilson, who employs four other instructors, said she appreciated Beauregard’s sentiments, and added that her top priority was to keep her studio in Gardner.

“We have families from all of the surrounding towns, so moving would make it more difficult for a lot of the families, so I would love to stay in Gardner.”

Wilson said she was confident that Just Dance! would have a new location in the community eventually.

“I know that we’re going to find a new space,” she explained. “If (Lincoln Street) doesn’t work out, I’m just going to keep going and keep looking. But we’ll definitely find a space and be back up and running.”

This article originally appeared on Gardner News: Just Dance! Performing Arts Center in Gardner searching for new home