One concept would add bowling to the Market Arcade theater.
A second vision would create an auditorium and lounge space geared toward hipsters.
But it’s the similarities that stand out in two competing proposals by developers Rocco Termini and Nick Sinatra, who are among three developers vying to breathe new life into downtown’s lone moviehouse.
The movie theater closed June 19.
Both developers would retain the building as an updated theater for Hollywood movies and add reclining seats, wait service and alcoholic beverages. Both would operate the theater under the Dipson Theatres banner, keep the Road Less Traveled Productions theater company, convert part of the space into a concert venue and emphasize dining.
Each holds out the promise of transforming a theater that suffered from poor attendance for more than a decade into a vibrant, multi-entertainment downtown destination.
Now it’s up to city officials to choose from among Sinatra, Termini and a third, unidentified bidder who also submitted a proposal by the June 20 deadline.
“We have two parties who have significant interests in downtown already, and now we have a third that is also looking to invest. All three have created a good problem for us to have, and reflects what is occurring downtown and in the City of Buffalo,” said Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the city’s Office of Strategic Planning.
Mehaffy said he hopes a decision can be reached soon.
“We’d like to have a decision on this in about a month, but that is also going to depend on negotiations, sometimes with several parties,” Mehaffy said.
Neither Termini or Sinatra would retain the Buffalo Film Seminars, the University at Buffalo series that recently announced its relocation to the Amherst Theater.
Termini’s $5.3 million proposal – $1 million more than a month ago – would take six to nine months to construct, he said. The developer is now teaming up with Dr. Gregory Daniel, who submitted one of four initial proposals.
The theater complex would be named Tavern + Bowl, for the chain that also operates a bowling alley with a restaurant and sports bar in four San Diego-area locations. Termini dropped his initial idea to call it “Laverne and Shirley’s Bowling and Eating Emporium.”
Termini’s proposal includes:
• Four theater auditoriums with reclining seats and wait service that includes beer and wine and a one-price option for unlimited, self-serve fountain drinks and popcorn. Reserved seating and dinner-movie packages would be offered.
• Cult midnight movies on weekends.
• A 5,000-square-foot restaurant and sports bar.
• 10 bowling lanes.
• Live music booked by promoters Donny Kutzbach and Artie Kwitchoff, who own and book the nearby Town Ballroom.
• Outdoor beer garden and bocce on Main Street.
• Marquees with LED lighting on both Washington and Main streets.
“We’re trying to make it a destination where people want to go,” Termini said. “The bowling makes it a regional attraction. You will bring people downtown from the suburbs because there would be no other place like this in Western New York.”
Termini’s downtown development track record includes the nearby Ellicott Lofts, Ellicott Commons, IS Lofts and Hotel @ the Lafayette.
“Buffalo is one of the only cities that has not embraced the concept of bowling, music and restaurants intermingling with one another. What we’re creating will be a cool and hip place to go,” Termini said.
The Sinatra & Company’s $2 million proposal would rename the theater Palace Arts Arcade.
It includes the involvement of E. Frits Abell, managing director of Impact-Industries, who launched the Buffalo Expat Network and founded Echo Art Fair; concert promoter Chris Ring of After Dark Entertainment; JJ Alfieri, operator of Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar in Allentown; and Michael Militello, owner of the Bijou Grille.
Sinatra’s proposal includes:
• Three movie auditoriums with reclining seats, reserved seating and wait service that includes alcoholic beverages, and dinner-movie packages.
Dipson, the theater chain that managed the Market Arcade theater, would manage Sinatra’s updated theater.
• An auditorium with a “hipster interior feel” would include chairs and couches, as well as indie features and older films. A similarly furnished full-service lobby bar would offer custom craft beers, as well as hors d’oeuvres and finger foods.
• The Bijou Grille would offer dining.
• A mid-size concert venue that would be booked by After Dark Entertainment.
• Marquee on Main Street that reflects the Theatre District’s historic theaters of the past.
• “Black Box Theatre” for performance, rehearsal and studio space.
• A mural along the exterior on Washington Street.
• A cafe and juice bar inside the Washington Street lobby entrance.
The upstairs space would also be transformed into dressing rooms, a costume laundry room, practice rooms for artists and musicians, film and video editing suites, graphic design and digital arts computer labs, and more.
The third unidentified proposal “shows experience in both movie theaters and restaurants,” Mehaffy said.
He declined to reveal more at the party’s request.
“We’re really looking to push the envelope with this model,” Sinatra said. “We’re looking to be a destination, a place where folks can feel they can go and do something with their social time other than just going out and have drinks at a bar. We want to really engage their intellectual side.”
His realty firm, founded in 2009, has more than 500 commercial and residential units in Erie and Niagara counties. Earlier this year, Sinatra & Company bought the historic Market Arcade building a few doors down from the theater. The building includes several arts and architectural tenants. He envisions using the buildings to create a “cultural hub” on the block.
Sinatra and Abell said their proposal reflects a commitment to building a downtown arts district.
“It’s pretty textbook that the arts can really activate or enliven a previously dead area, which we all agree Main Street has been and is,” Abell said. “The ‘Buffalo Billion’ talks about leveraging assets. Well, the arts are one of our key assets.”
Sinatra said they hope to attract “hipsters” who need another incentive to return to Buffalo, or who may have just returned and want to live downtown.
Both Termini and Sinatra see great opportunities in downtown with the return of traffic to Main Street and the development of the waterfront and medical campus.
“At the end of the day, the city wins no matter who ultimately gets the bid,” Sinatra said. “Any of the three proposals will be a huge upgrade and a win for the city.”