Kathie Kudela, executive director of the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center, shows off the auditorium, which officials hope to upgrade into a 999-seat “grand theater,” with restored seats and improved sound and lighting systems.

NIAGARA FALLS – This year should shape up to be more forward-reaching for the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center than last year was.

The organization spent a good portion of 2013 raising money to make up for a last-minute cut of $30,000 in funding from city bed tax revenues.

The funding for 2014 was confirmed earlier this month by the City Council.

A lot of things that were put on hold will again move forward, but perhaps most noteworthy is a big capital project on the horizon at the NACC (for those outside the Falls, it’s pronounced “knack”).

Officials want to upgrade the 999-seat Grand Theater, the auditorium inside the former Niagara Falls High School.

Aside from refurbishing the appearance, plans also call for restoring seats, improving sound and lighting in the room, and upgrading smoke detectors and the fire alarm system. The building’s elevator is also being refurbished.

“It’s the next logical step for this building because all of the other spaces are really fully utilized, but it’s our inner core, these very large spaces that are very underutilized, and we have to make this building pay for itself,” said Kathie Kudela, who served as executive director from 2006 until last week, when she stepped down to focus on the organization’s capital projects.

While the space has been used for recitals, concerts and other shows in the past, a revamped auditorium would be able to be used more frequently for all types of shows.

The NACC, which opened in 2001, houses more than 70 artists and groups across several disciplines.

From painters, photographers, word workers and sculptors to ballet dancers, musicians, jewelry makers and actors, the collection of people who use space at the NACC is diverse. There’s also a gallery, as well as the Woodbox Theater.

The facility also offers camps for children, has a community garden and has an annual beer-tasting fundraiser known as the “Art of Beer.”

Because the building at 1201 Pine Ave. is on both the State and National Register for Historic Places, the work will have to meet historic preservation standards.

The cost of the project is estimated at somewhere between $2.5 million and $3 million.

The project also calls for being able to reopen the balcony, which holds about 300 people, in addition to the main floor’s roughly 600 seats.

The organization is currently working with an architect on the plans.

Keeping the theater at fewer than 1,000 seats will help keep the project’s price tag down, Kudela said, because of additional costs triggered by that seating threshold.

When completed, a refurbished auditorium is seen as providing a new stream of income for the organization, as well as another cultural asset for the city.

“We have some experts who are eager to help restore it, as we find funding,” Kudela said.

The organization also hopes to see more out of its former gymnasium, certified by the state as a “qualified film production facility” and one of three certified sound stages in Western New York.

To deal with the funding cut last year, the NACC received a $15,000 grant from the Oishei Foundation, which needed to be matched by $15,000 in funds raised by the organization.

Because of the funding issue, events, program development, maintenance and capital projects were put on hold last year.

Both Kudela and Katherine Johnson, who served as board president from 2007 until last week, argued for the reinstatement of funds before city lawmakers earlier this month.

Kudela said the NACC has become a civic center.

“A civic center includes all ages, ethnicities, abilities, income levels and religions,” Kudela said. “It’s a gathering place where people from all parts of the city get to know each other in a very neutral setting. It’s a place where so many things happen.”

email: abesecker@buffnews.com

Click here to see the comments. Add yours now!