By Michael Regan
Niagara Gazette — NORTH TONAWANDA — A building formerly housing a transmission shop along Main Street and purchased by members of the Riviera Theatre in 2007 will be torn down later this year.
“It’s just been kind of sitting there and in the last year and a half we had some studies done and there’s some environmental issues with the building,” said Frank Cannata, executive director of the theatre.
But now a $350,000 grant procured from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency will help remediate the brownfield and fund the deconstruction of the building. Cannata said the group had initially believed the building was salvageable and could be incorporated into the existing theater, which sits just next door.
“There was going to be an attached lobby and improved bathroom facilities but as we got into it we realized the ceilings weren’t high enough and the environmental clean-up would have been cost prohibitive,” Cannata said. “It really limited us on what we could do. Rather than save the building we decided to knock it down and really go for a signature expansion space that will hopefully generate interest and traffic in North Tonawanda.”
Canatta envisions a development that would open up that section of Main Street and make it more alluring, with an architecture firm having formulated a plan that will rebuild a two-story, state-of-the-art facility and incorporate a black box theatre, a green room and showers for larger performances at the Riviera Theatre, an expanded concession area and new bathrooms as well as a Main Street entrance.
“We’re hoping to flood the street with light from our building,” Cannata said.
Jim Pritchard, who works at the theater and knows the project intimately, said his organization would first have to raise $4 million to $5 million for what would become a mix of modern and historically significants details and draw more patrons to the theatre and allow it to expand its portfolio of events.
“We could build it tomorrow if we had the funding,” Pritchard said. “We can enhance our patrons’ experience and a higher variety of shows.”
The black box theater is one of the more exciting features of the planned space, Pritchard said, which will add a smaller performance area for about 100 people as well as the possibility of holding two shows simultaneously.
“So many local groups are looking to draw people and many of the national touring shows require bigger dressing rooms and showers,” he said, of the benefits of the black box theatre for local acts. “We do want to have a major impact on the community. There will be a brick exterior and a big open glass entranceway. All of that is still subject to approval, but the fact that we’re really able to start showing the project is an exciting thing.”