The City of Buffalo is putting the operation of the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre complex in downtown Buffalo out for bid, seeking to privatize the eight-screen theater while maintaining some of the current attractions in the heart of the Theater District.
The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency issued a formal request-for-proposals Friday to about 60 area developers, real estate brokers, potential operators and associations, seeking bids to take over operation and management of the three-building complex at 639-643 Main St. and 628 Washington St. Besides the theater, the buildings also house the Bijou Grille and office space.
“We’re looking to see if it can be operated like any other for-profit operation, while preserving a lot of the cultural aspects associated with the current operation, and which contribute to the Theater District,” said Brendan R. Mehaffy, the city’s executive director of strategic planning.
The request for proposals seeks “proposals that continue the operation as a cinema and to continue local programming and film festivals such as the Buffalo Film Seminars, Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, Western New York Black Film Fest and live theater performances.”
Currently, Dipson runs first-run movies in seven of the eight auditoriums, with the eighth used for live theater by Road Less Traveled Productions.
Officials want the rest of the space in the 55,000-square-foot complex to be used for restaurant, retail, office, residential and arts or cultural purposes.
“I think it’s an opportunity for the city to see if there is a private development or someone who is interested in taking over the Market Arcade and putting it back on the tax rolls,” said Michael T. Schmand, Buffalo Place’s executive director and also the theater’s treasurer.
“They want to get out of the real estate business, and with downtown hot right now, why not see if anyone wants to kick the tires? With people wanting to live downtown, I’m just hoping it stays as a movie house.”
The financially struggling theater has seen few upgrades in its 27-year history, and the cost to digitize its movie projectors, as the industry moves away from celluloid, is about $420,000.
The complex’s board estimates an additional $1.4 million would be needed to make the kinds of improvements expected in contemporary movie theaters, including stadium seating, 3-D projection, a new refreshment stand, and improvements to the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems.
According to the request for proposals document, the city will give preference to proposals “that (1) create and maintain an exciting, active atmosphere and will make an attractive destination, (2) enhance and complement existing and planned attractions of the Theater District, (3) encourage daily patronage, and/or (4) generate economic development benefits.”
Letters of interest are due by May 9, while formal proposals are due June 20.
The city’s attempt to sell the building follows the recent sale of the historic Market Arcade building a few doors down. The development firm Sinatra & Co. has agreed to acquire the atrium-shaped building, whose tenants include retail stores, nonprofits and Perfetto’s restaurant, and relocate its headquarters from Kenmore.
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