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Plans are afoot to revive long-closed Fort Niagara theater

A Youngstown man has a plan to convert a long-dormant theater at Fort Niagara into a multimedia performing arts center.

But it seems that the opening of what David Graf calls the Niagara Post Theater is years away.

Tuesday, Graf estimated it would cost $2.4 million to carry out his plan of making the 88-year-old military movie theater into a new venue. His plan includes nearly doubling the size of the building to make live theater more viable.

He said he already has scrounged 272 seats from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, where a movie theater is being demolished. And he received his first cash aid Tuesday, when the committee that controls Niagara River Greenway funding in Niagara County gave him $120,000.

Graf told the committee that when he's at the theater, he has been impressed by "the number of people that walk up to me and shake my hand and thank me for doing it, because they've always wondered why for the last 60 years, no one's ever approached that."

Graf, a former software engineer who said he worked for several large companies, including DuPont, IBM and Union Carbide, is making his first move into the theater scene, with the help of a 12-member volunteer board, of which he is the president.

"I'm a problem-solver," Graf said. "Everybody who knows this project says I'm the perfect person for it."

The building needs a new roof, and Graf said he is also seeking contractors' bids to remove asbestos from the walls, ceiling tiles and pipes.

He said he hopes the building will be suitable for showing movies again by 2021. That's a year later than the timeline offered in his Greenway application.

But the 5,000-square-foot building isn't really suitable for live performances, including the year-round children's theater Graf hopes will anchor his operation.

"Movies are cool, but they can't support themselves," Graf said. "Live theater takes space."

That's why he's planning a 4,500-square-foot addition to the building, accommodating restrooms, dressing rooms and other backstage facilities a theater must have.

The Fort Niagara Theater in 2019. (Contributed photo)

Showings of classic films, concerts, and meetings and conferences also are included in Graf's plan.

Graf signed a 20-year lease on the state-owned building in March, through an adaptive reuse policy.

“We are pleased to be partnering with the group restoring the Post Theater," said Angela Berti, Niagara Region State Parks spokesperson. "Certainly any efforts to create opportunity to enhance the patron experience in our parks and to bring people in who may not otherwise have is important. We look forward to continued partnership on this project."

Graf said he was inspired to enter the theater business by his daughter, Amy Teal, who operates Teal's Niagara Theater and Performing Arts Academy. Its youth productions are normally staged in school auditoriums in the Lewiston-Porter and Niagara Falls districts.

"It gives us an opportunity to put educational things in and develop children's self-esteem," Graf said.

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