Tonawanda News

July 22, 2013

Making way for the Riv

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News —

A building behind the historic Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda was taken down Monday, making way for a new era for the cultural organization that has undergone a stunning turnaround over the last decade. 

While blueprints and fundraising are already under way the former transmission shop at 68 Main St. is now a pile of rubble after sitting vacant behind the theater for years. Members of the Riviera's board of directors arranged the purchase of the building in 2007. 

The next week will entail cleaning up that debris before the next ambitious phase ensues, including the remediation of a brownfield area beneath the torn-down building. 

The real work will begin in the fall, according to Gary Rouleau, director of development for the theater, who said it will need raise $5.9 million to build the 23,000-square-foot structure, a project that will turn the former transmission shop into a 120-person capacity black box theater, an expanded concession area, additional bathrooms, dressing rooms, an area for special functions and a rooftop terrace with views of the Erie Canal. 

It is expected to take roughly two years to come up with that funding. 

The venture will enhance the Riviera's offerings and allow it to hold two shows simultaneously — one on the Riviera's main stage and another in the black box theater — while also bringing yet another aspect to the burgeoning downtown area of North Tonawanda, where nine new bars and restaurants have set up shop in recent years. 

However, while Rouleau declined to specify just how close the group is to raising the nearly $6 million needed to construct the organization's vision, he did indicate it will need the help of residents and businesses contributing to bring it closer to that goal. 

"We have a long way to go," he said.

The Riviera Theatre, constructed in 1926, has made headway under the direction of its leader, Frank Cannata, who has increased its budget from $180,000 seven years ago to $1.6 million today, Rouleau said. More than 100,000 patrons attended 176 events at the theater in 2012, he added. 

Bringing the project from concept to reality has taken five years, Cannata said. It will also add to the theater's revenue stream, he noted.  

"I never thought I would spend the whole day being excited watching a building come down," he said. "And dreaming about what's going to become a reality in the near future." 

Cannata said it appears that some early funding may be in the works, though his group will also need to turn to the community for further financial support. 

"We've already had some interest from some large donors," he said. "We want to build on the momentum. We will, in the next couple of months, have a shovel-ready piece of property." 

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.