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Enhancing arts from East to West in Buffalo neighborhoods

Two new venues are emerging onto Buffalo’s arts and theater scene.

One is at Ferry Circle, near Elmwood Village, where an arts group led by urban planner and arts supporter Rachel Heckl plans to spend $6 million to convert a historic church into a visual and performing arts center for local dance troupes.

The other is in the city’s Broadway Market neighborhood, where Torn Space Theater wants to renovate a former gas station and convenience store into a production and design studio to go along with its theater space next door on Fillmore Avenue.

The hope is to create an interesting hotbed for art on the East Side.

“This project will greatly improve and enhance the Fillmore-Paderewski area,” said Dan Shanahan, artistic director of Torn Space, which specializes in contemporary performances.

Both proposals are seeking backing from the city’s Planning Board.

The Rosanna Elizabeth Visual & Performing Arts Center, at Ferry Circle, plans to convert the former Richmond Avenue Methodist Church into an arts facility named for Heckl’s mother.

The project, which has been in the works since Heckl’s group bought the church from Alleyway Theatre in early 2014, envisions a visual and performing arts center focused on practice and performance spaces for local dance troupes.

The proposal entails rehabilitating the outside of the three-story, 33,365-square-foot building at 525 W. Ferry St., and putting on a two-story 3,435-square-foot brick addition in the rear.

The new complex would include the main theater with a 264-seat lower level and stage in the former church sanctuary and a 216-seat balcony.

It also would include a dance theater, dancers lounge, conference space and the ticket office, as well as music practice and storage rooms on the basement level.

If approved, according to Planning Board documents, the group wants to start construction in March, using BRD Construction to manage the project. It aims to finish in time for a March 2017 opening. Zoning and historic approvals also are required.

Constructed in 1891, with the sanctuary added in 1898, the church closed in 1996 and was purchased by Alleyway two years later.

Renovations began but stalled by 2001 and were abandoned, leaving the building vacant since then.

The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 and was purchased by Heckl for $170,000, with plans similar to Alleyway’s.

Workers already have stabilized the building to prevent further water damage, and have covered areas of loose and failing masonry.

Across town, Torn Space – which has been located on the lower level of the Adam Mickiewicz Library since 2001 – wants to restore that space at 612 Fillmore Ave., while also renovating a onetime Sunoco gas station and convenience store next door into a production and design studio with conference rooms.

Plans call for recladding the exterior with new fiber-cement panels instead of the current asbestos siding, installing new windows and painting. Workers will also make minor aesthetic improvements to the theater space, which seats about 80.

The adjacent convenience store building, a single-story vacant cinder block structure that is already owned by the Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle, will be clad in fabricated steel panels from Rigidized Metals, with perforations to create an artistic element for a new facade.

A new roof will be added, and the interior will be gutted and new electrical and plumbing service installed.

“The intent is to create some form of art piece or iconic element to the landscape that will tie into the area and tie to Broadway Market on the north, the church and Central Terminal, and hopefully create an interesting hotbed for future art-related events and venues,” said Natalie Tan, architect at Integrated Environments + Architecture.

The $700,000 project already has money from the Better Buffalo Fund, part of the governor’s Buffalo Billion economic-development program, and other grants, and is supported by a couple of neighborhood groups and Common Council Member David A. Franczyk of the Fillmore District. The site has 23 parking spaces, adjacent to 612 Fillmore, and an additional lot across the street.