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The ongoing restoration of the Riviera Theatre and Performing Arts Center took a giant step forward Friday with the unveiling of its dazzling $285,000 marquee.

“It’s a symbol of resurgence for the Riviera. We’ve been scratching and clawing our way for the last several years for funding,” said Gary Rouleau, Riviera director of development.Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy led a group of dignitaries who attended the unveiling of the marquee Friday morning at the 88-year-old theater in North Tonawanda. Those attending the ceremonies were treated to a dazzling demonstration of the theater’s mighty Wurlitzer organ.

The marquee restoration puts a face on an ambitious $5.9 million upgrade that will involve the construction of a 23,000-square-foot addition that will hold a black-box theater, elevator, state-of-the art restrooms and modern dressing room facilities for touring acts.

The goal, according to Rouleau, is to make the Riviera a destination for larger traveling productions.

“We’re becoming a regional attraction with all the modern amenities a performing arts center needs to draw larger audiences and increase revenue,” said Rouleau.

Already, a $350,000 upgrade to the Riviera stage swapped an ancient rope-pulley-sandbag mechanism with a modern system to control movement of curtains, screen and lighting.

Restoration work on the marquee began after its removal last October. The restoration effort required painstaking research on the part of the small but dedicated theater staff, said Rouleau

To match the paint originally used in the 1947 marquee, the Riviera staff consulted Flexlume Signs for the color scheme. Theatergoers will also see the marquee’s rose and green neon lights as well as the chasing lights that were restored to the original pattern.

The marquee was refurbished at the Wagner Electric Sign Co. in Elyria, Ohio. Frey Electric updated the theater’s electric infrastructure. Coordinating the restoration effort was Peyton Barlow Co.

Remediation efforts have begun at a former transmission shop at 68 Main where the addition will be built.

The remediation project was enabled by a $350,000 grant from the Niagara County Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund (BCRLF) Program, and the Riviera Theatre & Organ Preservation Society, Inc.

When complete, the addition will include a 100-seat theater, a new entrance off Main Street, dressing room suite with showers and laundry facilities for performers, and a bar and concession area. The installation of an elevator will allow the balcony to be handicapped accessible, said Rouleau.

The renovation will also address the top concern registered by Riviera theatergoers – restrooms. Rouleau said new facilities will be located on both levels.

Financing for the marquee was provided by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the Grigg-Lewis Foundation and community donations.

email jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com