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News that the Market Arcade Film and Arts Centre might have to shut its doors because of soon-to-be obsolete projection equipment has prompted city lawmakers to examine whether they can come up with money to keep the lights on.

The Common Council is considering adding $250,000 to the city’s 2014 capital budget for new digital projectors at downtown’s only movie theater, said Majority Leader Demone A. Smith. The cost to replace all of the projectors is $420,000, and Smith said the city is examining other funding sources for the rest, but he cautioned that discussions are preliminary.

The theater is owned by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, and Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen said Thursday that he is investigating whether city funds could be used to improve it.

“There are discussions now about that,” Pridgen said.

The Urban Renewal Agency is run out of City Hall, but its books are separate from the city’s. The city’s capital budget has funded improvements at other cultural institutions that are not run out of City Hall, such as the Buffalo Zoo and Kleinhans Music Hall. Smith said he expected to hear soon from city lawyers whether capital funds could be used to purchase new projectors. The Council has a Dec. 15 deadline to pass the capital budget.

Movie studios will soon begin to offer movies to theaters only as digital downloads instead of film, and the Market Arcade must upgrade its seven projectors to handle digital, at a cost of $60,000 each, if it wants to stay in the movie business. “We have it,” said Council President Richard A. Fontana. “If we don’t keep it, it’s hard to get back.”

Council members are hoping that the more immediate crisis of having to purchase new projectors will grow into a larger discussion about whether the city should look for ways to upgrade other aspects of the Market Arcade,or build a new theater downtown.

“I think we should build a new one, honestly,” said Smith, who hosts a black film festival every February at the Market Arcade. “We really do need to have a conversation.”

Lawmakers said they didn’t want to see the Market Arcade go dark because downtown doesn’t have any other movie theaters, and some people who live nearby don’t have cars.

Pridgen submitted legislation to the Council on Thursday calling for leadership of the Market Arcade and the executive director of the city’s Office of Strategic Planning, Brendan R. Mehaffy – who is also president of the Urban Renewal Agency – to update lawmakers on conditions at the theater.

“I think it’s important because as downtown grows and we continue to increase residential living, it’s important to have plenty of entertainment,” Pridgen said.

Market Arcade leadership estimates that the building could use an additional $1.4 million for such things as stadium seating, 3-D capabilities and improvements to restrooms, and heating and cooling systems.

Dipson Theatres manages the theater, which is run by a volunteer board, Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre Inc.

Fontana said he wants to make sure that sending city funds to the theater would not constitute a public gift to a private business.

But Pridgen, whose district includes the theater at 639 Main St., said there is no other competition downtown.

“There aren’t many movie theater companies beating down the door to operate in downtown Buffalo,” Pridgen said.

email: jterreri@buffnews.com