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Future of Melody Fair uncertain under new owner Retail developer might reopen the concert hall under the right circumstances

The dormant Melody Fair Theater in North Tonawanda has a new owner, but its future won't necessarily include music.

Venue Systems LLC, a corporation formed to acquire the 14.6-acre property, has purchased the idle theater from Crown Fair Inc., for $400,000. Michael Foster, of Recckio Real Estate, who acted as broker on the deal, said the new owner is primarily interested in the property in the 800-block of Niagara Falls Boulevard for retail development.

The new owner is said to have ties to Wurlitzer Park Complex LLC which purchased the 8.7-acre tract that fronts the Melody Fair site in January 2005 for $420,000. The Wurlitzer group recently received city approvals to build a two-story, 50,000-square-foot office/retail plaza at 866 Niagara Falls Blvd. at the entrance to Melody Fair.

Construction on that project is expected to get under way late this year or in spring 2007.

But Foster said he wouldn't rule out a reopening of the concert hall under the right circumstances.

"If someone came in and said they wanted to run the theater, and they had the money to back it up, they'd be open to it. But it would have to be someone with a solid plan and funds to do it," the broker said.

Money has long been at the heart of Melody Fair's problems. The well-known, summer-only concert venue has been through a very public bankruptcy that left it chained and padlocked in the late 1990s, followed by a brief name change to Majestic Theater, a rebirth as Melody Fair, and a failed proposal to transform it to a year-round music destination.

It has been shuttered and quiet since 2003.

The 3,400-seat theater -- home of the area's only revolving stage -- started life in the 1950s as a tent-covered summer theater, drawing such greats as Harry Belafonte. In the 1960s, a permanent roof was added, and its fare evolved to music concerts.

It was the site of dozens of major summer concert events over the next three decades, with a variety of national artists, running the gamut from The Who to Chicago to Garth Brooks, playing to a pack hall. But sour financial notes eventually drowned out the melodies when then-owner Augusto International Corp. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1998. A sea of debts, including unpaid property and school taxes, resulted in the facility being shut down by the City of North Tonawanda.

Under new ownership and a new name, Majestic Theater, the venerable entertainment site was back in business in 1999. John Bunch, owner of Majestic Pool and Spa, pumped fresh capital into the tired buildings, but after three less-than-successful seasons, the hall went silent again for the summer of 2002.

In 2003, under its original Melody Fair moniker, the site offered up 22 concerts. And in 2004, Bunch and long-time Melody Fair operator Ed Smith raised hopes the theater would have a future as a year-round venue, announcing an ambitious $5 million vision that never got off the ground.

Bunch put the facility on the market, letting it sit idle for the 2004 and 2005 summer concert season.

Foster said the main theater structure is in "pretty good condition," despite having been dor mant for two seasons.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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