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Road Less Traveled to build new theater in former Main Street shoe store

Road Less Traveled Theatre is moving to one of the less traveled stretches of road in Buffalo.

Just three years after decamping from its longtime home in the former Market Arcade Film and Arts Center for a cavernous space at 500 Pearl Street, the ambitious local theater company will spend the summer building a new home in a former shoe store on a carless block of Main Street.

The space, the former Baker's Shoe complex at 456 Main St., has been vacant since the early 1990s. Like the company's former home, it is owned by Ellicott Development, which has spent decades developing several buildings in the area into a mix of retail space and residential units.

Ellicott Development has struggled for years to find an occupant for the one-story building, which sits on a relatively desolate stretch of Main Street behind a large Metro Rail stop that has discouraged potential tenants.

What's more, said Ellicott Development CEO William Paladino, the size of the new space is much more appropriate to the needs of the company.

"They built a theater within a theater, so it was really an underutilization of the space having them where they were," Paladino said. "We think for the time being that this is a very good use for it and it can be there for a long time. It's been a difficult space to lease because of those prior issues."

This is the storefront at 456 Main St., where Road Less Traveled is planning to move. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Though Road Less Traveled leaders are not necessarily looking forward to another hectic summer move, Artistic and Executive Director Scott Behrend said he's looking forward to setting a new home in a space more suited to the company's needs.

"They've been a great partner in this entire process of trying to locate us in an ideal situation that not only would meet our requirements but also keep our rent very affordable and give us a long-term lease," Behrend said. "The ability for us to pay the kind of rent that we'd need to pay in a space like that just wasn't going to happen. We aren't that big of an organization."

The company will move the stadium seating it installed at 500 Pearl into the new space and relocate its high-end sound and lighting equipment making a summer-long construction project in the raw, high-ceilinged space manageable.

With cars likely to return to the 400 block of Main Street in the next several years, Behrend said he thinks the company will be well positioned in its new downtown home.

"If he wanted to rent it out at a much higher dollar per square foot very soon, I think he probably could have," Behrend said of Paladino. "I also think he sees investing in the arts in that area as a people-driver."

The company's move is one of several recent relocations for small Buffalo companies, including the American Repertory Theatre of Western New York's loss of its home at the Sportsmen's Tavern and the establishment of Second Generation Theatre in Shea's Smith Theatre for its 2018-19 season.

"At this point, we're happy having them there," Paladino said. "The space has real high ceilings, it's conducive to what they do. It'll be a nice addition to that part of Main Street and the building itself."

The company will sign a 10-year lease for the space, Behrend said.

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