The Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre, the city’s only downtown movie theater, will show its last movies Thursday night, at least in its present incarnation.
The theater at 639 Main St. will close because it can no longer get enough 35 mm movie prints, and it lacks the money to purchase digital projectors, officials said.
“We are closing down, quite honestly, because of the movie projectors. We were not able to fund the digital equipment. It was getting more difficult to get the first-run movies, and other theaters were showing movies that we couldn’t get, and that hurt us at the box office,” said Michael Schmand, treasurer of the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre board of directors, the not-for-profit group that operates the theater.
“You have to pay your vendors, we were very low on our cash reserves, and a business decision had to be made. Unfortunately, it meant the movie theater would have to close.”
Road Less Traveled Productions, a theater company based at the Market Arcade theater since 2006, will continue to operate out of the space for the time being.
The shutdown of the poorly attended theater may prove to be temporary. Four private operators interested in showing movies in the space responded in March to the city’s request for proposals, and they are due to submit more-formal proposals by Friday.
Last November, the Brown administration said it was unwilling to spend an estimated $60,000 per digital projector for each of the theater’s seven screens or invest further in a building that has seen few upgrades in its 27-year history. Instead, the city is seeking a buyer that would continue to operate a movie theater and retain Road Less Traveled Productions and Buffalo Film Seminars, a weekly University at Buffalo course open to the public, while returning the property to the tax rolls. The professors for the UB seminar have announced plans to relocate to the Amherst Theatre in the fall.
Developers Rocco Termini, Nick Sinatra, Dr. Gregory Daniel and a fourth, unconfirmed applicant have submitted proposals. Termini is the only one to have spoken publicly about his intentions – a project that would add 10 bowling lanes, live music and dining and comfort food with four auditoriums for movies.
The Market Arcade theater was built by the city and opened in 1987, with help from federal funding. General Cinema Corp. was the operator until 1998, followed by Angelika Film Center in a deal sweetened with $200,000 from the city to improve the lobby’s appearance.
But Angelika pulled out 11 months later after losing money in consecutive quarters. That’s when the not-for-profit board took over.
Schmand, also executive director of Buffalo Place, an agency that promotes downtown, said he was encouraged by the proposals that would keep a movie theater in place. He said he hopes the closing will be short-lived. The return of traffic on Main Street, expansion of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and other changes in the heart of Buffalo can help a movie theater succeed, he said.
“We firmly believe coming out of this process that there will be a movie theater in downtown Buffalo. We look forward to the reopening,” Schmand said.