Tonawanda News

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September 18, 2013

Riviera Theatre to renovate iconic marquee among other changes

Tonawanda News — The Riviera Theatre, the heart and soul of Webster Street and perhaps in many ways the city at large, is nearing the end of one fundraising campaign and launching into another. 

With steady progress gained over the last several decades, the focal point for the organization has been updating the interior of the structure hoping to draw bigger acts, more elaborate stage settings and thus, more patrons, with larger crowds bringing in more revenue. 

While many of those goals have been achieved Frank Cannata, executive director of the Riviera Theatre, said the focus is now turning to the exterior of the building and its newly unleashed expansion efforts. 

That was firmly established in July when the group tore down a former car shops behind the theater to eventually create new performance space. 

With remediation work about to kick off, the $5.9 million project is expected to begin in the next two to three years, while theater officials are banking on a recently submitted state grant application that could bringing in $1.5 million, inaugurating the process. Another $315,000 grant already procured will clear the brownfield site before that work begins. 

But while the funding initiatives for it started this summer, the organization is shifting its attention to the front of the theater on Webster Street. 

With nearly $275,000 raised, the theater’s iconic neon marquee will get a major overhaul, while still falling in line with its architectural and historical significance since it was first erected in the 1940s. 

When first constructed, the brand new marquee cost roughly $14,000. But it will take nearly $300,000 to restore it, including updating 785 lightbulbs, electrical work, replacing neon lettering that has dimmed over time, metal restoration, painting and the addition of an LED panel that will allow acts to be posted electronically.

Gary J. Rouleau, the theater’s director of development, said the theater has served as an anchor for the resurgence in the city’s downtown corridor, with restaurants and boutiques shops continuing to spring up along the street over the last seven years. 

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