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Shea's Performing Arts Center soon will have something almost every playhouse covets -- a smaller second stage next to its main hall.

Under a $500,000 grant from the George G. and Elizabeth G. Smith Foundation, the Main Street showplace will renovate the former George & Co. building, adjacent to Shea's main entrance, into a small theater to accommodate "interactive productions, dinner theater and community events."

The converted space will open next March with a return engagement of the popular "Tony n' Tina's Wedding."

Shea's, which is in the midst of a $30 million renovation, bought the former costumery and office building from the Buffalo Economic Development Corp. last spring with a grant from the Smith Foundation and additional financing from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation.

Renovation of the street-level floor began earlier this month.

"We have been searching for a second stage venue for more than four years," said Patrick Fagan, Shea's president.

In addition to presenting productions, Shea's will rent the space to smaller theater groups "who want to have a presence in the heart of the Theater District," Fagan said.

"This is another step forward, as we strive to complete the initiatives detailed in the master plan," said James A. Gately, Shea's board chairman.

The news drew praise from neighborhood restaurateurs Mark Croce of the Brownstone Bistro and Michael Militello of the Bijou Grille, who said Shea's productions help build customer traffic.

Work on the former George & Co. building coincides with the ongoing work at Shea's, which involves replacing wiring and restoring the west wall, fire escape and main lobby.

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