Ben Madoff had a good year at work.
So, instead of stashing the unexpected windfall from his engineering job in his 401K or investing it in the stock market, the 36-year-old Toledo, Ohio native decided to fulfill a long-held dream:
He bought a 3,000 square-foot warehouse in Larkinville to house Buffalo's growing community of circus artists and performers.
"This has been my dream, and this is what I wanted to do with it," Madoff said. "It really wasn't even a question for me. Sure, I could have put it in a bank or something. I'm sure some sort of accountant that would say that was a reasonable plan, but it wasn't really an option."
The space, called the Bird's Nest and located at 64 Fillmore Ave., will become the headquarters for a fledgling local movement of aerial performers and practitioners of AcroYoga -- a form of exercise that combines yoga and acrobatics. Madoff, one of the AcroYoga movement's most committed local advocates, expects it to be open and ready to host circus artists of all types by spring 2017.
Madoff said the space will provide a home for about 20 die-hard AcroYoga participants and an equal number of aerial performers, who typically practice outdoors in the summer months and spend the winter bouncing from studio to studio. He and his fellow AcroYoga enthusiasts are funding the renovations with a crowdfunding campaign, which has raised about $9,000 of its $50,000 goal.
"In the winter we've been limited to other people's studios here and there," Madoff said. "We really needed more space to grow and more pads to make sure we practiced safely."
The new space, used most recently to house construction supplies, will feature two-inch thick pads throughout the entire space to cushion inevitable falls. Madoff and other will also work to install rigging for aerial equipment such as hoops and trapezes, training equipment and a small climbing wall for cross-training.
He said a fully functioning practice space with high ceilings has the potential to feed the growth of the local circus community.
"The circus arts have grown enormously here, but I've noticed that we're hitting a wall because we can't practice as often as we really need to. What everybody wants is to grow, to train and to get better," he said. "Because it's really just fun. It's all we want to do with our free time."
The movement, which has its roots on the West Coast, started locally about four years ago. It has grown slowly to include about 20 die-hard acrobats who are committed to AcroYoga and another 50 or 60 people who attend AcroYoga events semi-regularly. A separate community of aerial performers is about the same size.
With the outright purchase of a space, Madoff said, he hopes that the AcroYoga and aerial performance communities will be able to avoid the financial pressures that often afflict other fledgling arts groups.
"We don't want to have rent breathing down our necks every month. We want to make sure we aren't under the gun of money all the time," he said. "All of us are far more passionate about the circus arts than we are about money."