Four proposals to privatize the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre would keep it a movie theater.
But at least one of those interested in taking over the complex in Buffalo’s Theatre District envisions a splashier attraction.
Developer Rocco Termini proposed a $4.5 million project, tentatively titled “Laverne and Shirley’s Bowling and Eating Emporium,” that would add 10 bowling lanes, live music and dining.
“It would be the only facility like this in the country. There are bowling and music venues like this, but nothing that includes movie theaters,” Termini said. “This is something that will bring the whole building back to life. You will start to see suburbanites come down. People will want to come back here.”
Termini’s proposal was described in one of four letters of interest the City of Buffalo received by last week’s deadline in response to its March 7 request for proposals.
The Buffalo News confirmed two others – Nick Sinatra of Sinatra & Co. Realty and Dr. Gregory F. Daniel, president of Exigence Division of TeamHealth – also submitted letters of interest. Both declined to comment.
The city hasn’t released information on the letters of interest. More formal proposals are due June 20.
Termini, who has developed the nearby Ellicott Lofts, Ellicott Commons and IS Lofts, said financing his proposed project could prove difficult.
“We have talked to foundations because there is no bank in the world who will finance this,” Termini said. “You have a building that has lost money for 30 years.”
Robert Kresse, a trustee for the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, called it crucial for the movie theater to remain on Main Street. Kresse has not supported any proposal, and he knew nothing yet about the other ideas. But Kresse called Termini’s proposal encouraging.
“I was impressed with the fact that he has done a lot to connect the dots,” Kresse said.
Brendan Mehaffy, who heads the city’s Office of Strategic Planning, said the Brown administration is glad all four proposals include the continuation of movies at the Main Street location.
“The mayor issued a call for proposals that would continue cinema operations, and we now have four groups that have expressed interest in operating a cinema,” Mehaffy said in a statement.
Termini would retain four of the seven theater auditoriums, but would upgrade and reconfigure seating and add wait service for food and wine. He wants to include dinner-and-a-movie packages and offer cult midnight movies on weekends, like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He also would place television sets around the complex showing reruns of “Laverne and Shirley,” the television sitcom that aired from 1976 to 1983 starring Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams.
Termini said he was inspired by Lucky Strike Lanes and Brooklyn Bowl, successful businesses that incorporate bowling with music, drinking and food, and by Cinepolis, a theater chain that caters to comfort and food offerings that go beyond standard movie theater fare.
The Road Less Traveled Productions theater company and the University at Buffalo’s Buffalo Film Seminars would also continue to operate under his plan.
The Bijou Grille, located in the 55,000-square-foot, three-building complex, would expand to two stories and overlook the lanes.
Sinatra, who in March agreed to buy the Market Arcade building a few doors down, also submitted a proposal. He declined to comment before the June 20 deadline but indicated he would buy the building and lease it to an operator with plans for the theater.
Daniel, of Exigence Division of TeamHealth, will not comment until the city chooses a proposal.
For years the Market Arcade theater has posed a challenge for venue operators, despite being in the Theater District and around the corner from the Chippewa Entertainment District.
The theater, built by the city with help from federal funding, opened in 1987.
The national chain General Cinema Corp. operated it until 1998, followed by Angelika Film Center, a small art house chain with its flagship theater in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The city sweetened its deal with Angelika with $200,000 to improve the lobby.
But Angelika left in under a year, citing a contract stipulation that it could exit if it lost money in consecutive quarters.
Dipson Theatres has managed the theater since 2000. The city pays heat and utility costs for the theater, but city officials are anxious to return the downtown buildings to the tax rolls. The Market Arcade Film & Arts Complex is overseen by a not-for-profit of the same name.
Few upgrades have been made to the building in 27 years. Among its needs are a new roof and heating and cooling system, new seating and a marquee.
Switching to digital projection also is an urgent need, since distributors are phasing out film.
“It needs everything,” Termini said of the theater. “You have to make this so it can start running at a profit.
“Everyone knows how important this building is to downtown,” Termini said. “If this theater closed it would be a black eye for Buffalo, and at this period in our evolution, we cannot afford any black eyes.
“You have to reinvent this building, and it can’t just be a movie theater. If you keep it the way it is – and I don’t care how much money you spend on it – no one is going to go there.”