Tonawanda News

May 3, 2014

Riviera Theatre dedicates newly renovated marquee

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Local politicians emphasized the importance of Riviera Theatre as an anchor in North Tonawanda on Friday morning at a dedication ceremony for the performing arts center’s newly renovated marquee.

“To have this theater being restored as part of the revitalization of Webster Street and the whole downtown corridor is amazing,” Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who attended Friday’s dedication, said. “You have achieved what many people do not.”

The modernized marquee was installed last week after years of fundraising for the project and months of work. The iconic marquee, which was first constructed in 1947, was removed from the theater in October and was sent to the Wagner Electric Sign Company in Ohio for the restoration process.

“The work was completed indoors — not with workers up on ladders — and with the winter we had, I think we have a much better product because of it,” Riviera Theatre Director of Operations Jim Pritchard said.

An architect worked with the Riv to match the marquee’s original paint colors, as well as its red and green neon lights. The new LED display panel replaces the old-fashioned method of placing lettering by hand for upcoming shows, but the style of the block letters is identical. Electrical updates were also completed inside the theater as part of the $285,000 project. 

Although the marquee has been modernized, about 90 percent of the structure’s features remain unchanged, in line with standards set by the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

The renovation of the marquee, which had fallen into disrepair after more than 60 years of use, was made possible through state grant money and donations from the community.

“The governor is a huge investor in upstate New York,” Duffy, a Democrat, said Friday, citing a $103,000 grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that aided the Riv in the restoration. “There has been an awful lot of money spent, and it would not have been possible without the local leadership here.”

But Friday’s event was about much more than the marquee — as staff and elected officials repeatedly stressed that the Riv’s ongoing renovations and popularity lend to the region’s growth.

“The restoration and preservation of our history is necessary for our future success,” Gary Rouleau, the theater’s director of development, said Friday. “We now bring in 80,000 to 100,000 people annually, and performers come from all over, stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants.”

Mayor Rob Ortt said he’s proud of NT’s work to revitalize the downtown corridor, progress that was made in part thanks to the Riv.

“To say this is just a marquee is to say this is just a theater,” he said. “But the Riv was bringing people to Webster Street before it was cool.”

State Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, also noted that North Tonawanda has benefited from its investment in old, historic buildings, while in contrast, the City of Tonawanda tore down its Star Theatre in the 1970s. 

“How lucky that NT didn’t go through that kind of urban renewal,” he said. “The regional assets don’t exist just in downtown Buffalo, they exist here as well.”

Riviera staff also discussed the Riv’s capital campaign to build a 23,000-square-foot structure that will connect to the back of the theater and will house a black box theater, event space, concessions, restrooms, dressing rooms and a rooftop view of the canal.

Although it will likely take years to raise the $6 million necessary for the project, the addition will have a long-lasting effect on the community, officials said Friday.

“It’s an ambitious project, but it’s a doable project,” Rouleau said. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.