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Riviera Theatre co-directors abruptly fired in house-cleaning

Jim Pritchard and Gary Rouleau, co-directors of North Tonawanda's Riviera Theatre, were relieved of their duties Tuesday night by the theater's board of directors.

Pritchard and Rouleau both confirmed the firings, which happened during the monthly board meeting at the theater.

"All I can say is we were informed last night that we were apparently not generating enough revenue and our services were no longer needed," Pritchard said in a phone interview. "I'd like to thank the volunteers and staff who made my eight years there so enjoyable."

Pritchard was promoted to the director spot in 2014. He replaced former Riviera Theatre director Frank Cannata, whose tenure also ended in a cloud of controversy after the board pushed him out. Since then, he and Rouleau expanded the theater into a regional draw with a $2 million annual budget, drawing an estimated 100,000 people a year to North Tonawanda's quaint Webster Street business strip.

Calls to the theater and to board president Larry Denef for a comment on the firings were not immediately returned by board leadership, nor did the board issue a statement on Tuesday.

"They said they had a vote of no confidence in our leadership and escorted us out the door," Rouleau said. "They didn't really give us a reason other than they claimed we don't raise enough money and we don't have enough sponsorships."

When Cannata left the theater in 2014, it carried about $125,000 in debt. But neither Pritchard nor Rouleau would be specific about how much debt the theater has. Rouleau estimated it at "a couple hundred thousand dollars," which has said was spread across at least one line of credit and an unspecified number of bank loans.

"Before engaging in any borrowing, the board was in constant communication with us as staff and had given their full approval," Pritchard said. "The April financial statements were in the black for 2017, so I'm not sure why it required this extreme of an action."

A copy of the theater's 2015 tax forms, accessed via the website, was heavily redacted, including sections that would list loans and lines of credit. It is uncommon for 990 tax forms, which by law are public information, to be redacted.

Rouleau and Pritchard, who each earned about $65,000 a year as of 2015, expressed surprise at the firings, indicating they had little inclination that the board was contemplating their ouster.

"All you can do is work your hardest, give it 100 percent, and do the best you can do," Rouleau said. "Everything else is out of control."

There is no word from the theater about a plan to replace Pritchard and Rouleau. The next show, a performance from the Buffalo Choral Arts Society, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 19.


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