NORTH TONAWANDA – A crumbling and polluted one-story brick building at the corner of Main and Tremont streets will be coming down to make way for a grand expansion of the historic Riviera Theatre.
The strains of “Be Our Guest” from the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ filtered onto the Main Street parking lot at the rear of the theater Thursday as officials and board members met to officially begin the demolition and remediation of the property.
Nearly 50 people and community leaders associated with the theater gathered, and each one who spoke started a conversation about the Riviera Theatre that began with, “I remember ... ”
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in restorations have been made in the 1926 theater in the past decade, and it has enjoyed a renaissance, drawing 100,000 visitors to 176 events in 2012 alone, with an estimated impact of $400,000 spent locally on hotels, catering, marketing, advertising and supplies.
The planned 23,000-square-foot, two-story expansion will continue the economic development, with a small theater for smaller theater events, a new secondary entrance and lobby on Main Street, a second-floor outdoor terrace with a view of the Erie Canal, modern restrooms and a new concession and bar area.
Updates would include a dressing room for performers with showers and rehearsal space. There currently are no showers in the dressing room, meaning the theater cannot host any shows whose actors belong to Actors’ Equity union. The project also involves adding flexible space for meeting rooms, a warming kitchen, new office space and box office and an elevator that can be used to access to the balcony.
Demolition and remediation is expected to be completed in 2014 and will be followed by the theater expansion, which is slated to be completed in 2015. A capital campaign has begun to raise funds for the construction and expansion.
The plan to expand the Riviera began five years ago when the board made the decision to buy the Competition Transmission repair shop at the rear of the Webster Street theater to expand the property to Main Street.
The repair shop building also had been a used-car dealership and a gas station in the past, and the crumbling building and property was rife with problems, such as contaminated soil, mold and asbestos.
The property was designated a brownfield site and a $350,000 grant from the Niagara County Brownfield Development Corp. was awarded to demolish the building and remediate the site.
“I’m very excited we have reached this point,” said Riviera Executive Director Frank Cannata. “We were waiting until funding became available for site cleanup.”
Cannata said the Riviera building will not be changed, but rather a whole new building will attach to it.
“Downtown, until recently, has been Webster Street. We want to stretch that down Sweeney to include Main Street, and that’s the idea – for downtown to build upon and grow with the success of Webster Street,” he said. “We are not here to talk about the past, but the future, the need to expand and grow.”
State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, who grew up in North Tonawanda, congratulated the city on the revitalization of Webster Street, calling it a “hot area in Western New York.”