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FIRM WANTS TO TURN CHURCH INTO CONCERT HALL

The recording company owned by singer Ani DiFranco plans to turn a 130-year-old vacant downtown church into offices and a public performance hall.

Righteous Babe Records proposes absorbing the $1.3 million price tag for turning part of the building into its corporate headquarters. But under the plan, the city would be responsible for finding $2.2 million needed for exterior renovations, said Strategic Planning Commissioner Joseph E. Ryan.

And if plans proceed to turn the church building at Delaware Avenue and West Tupper Street into a performance space, the $1.2 million for that part of the $4.7 million project would likely have to be financed through a still-undefined public-private partnership.

"It's good that we're seeing real numbers from them, but we're just not ready to go there yet," Ryan said. "Given our current financial situation, the city's ability to use capital bond funds would be very difficult."

Common Council members said Wednesday there are still unanswered questions, including how much money the proposed transformation of the former Asbury Delaware United Methodist Church will cost the financially strapped city.

Ryan wants the Common Council and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency to extend Righteous Babe's redeveloper status on the project an additional four months so planners can explore various financing options.

As part of the agreement for extending the company's option, Righteous Babe has agreed to spend $60,000 to make immediate repairs to the church's roof and towers.

Another unresolved issue involves efforts to help an African-American cultural organization find a new venue for a theater arts institute, Pitts told the Council's Community Development Committee. Ujima Theatre Company submitted a plan for Asbury Delaware in 1997, then resubmitted several revised proposals in subsequent years.

Pitts said one option being reviewed would involve converting the old Pfeifer Theatre into space for Ujima. The theater at 681 Main St., owned by the UB Foundation, was closed last year and put up for sale.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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