Marasco, Radford, Calato team up for theater renovation
By Joshua Maloni
Three well-known local entrepreneurs have teamed up to resurrect a Lewiston landmark. Claudia Marasco, Linda Radford and Carol Calato intend to renovate and reopen the church at 409 Plain St.
"That building's kind of been talking to me for a couple of years now since I've owned the (Kelly House) building across the street, and nothing's happening over there," Marasco told the Village of Lewiston Planning Board Monday.
"The three of us come to you tonight to lay the foundation to ask for a special use permit to reopen that beautiful church," she said.
The 114-year-old building was most recently used by the Niagara University Theatre Department. The college ended its lease during the spring 2010 semester when the new William P. and Marie Leary Theatre/Elizabeth Ann Clune Center for Theatre opened on campus. The venue also hosted Artpark & Company events in the 1990s. It was the original St. Peter R.C. Church at the turn of the past century.
"We're not going to be in the church business," Marasco said. "We want the same status that it has on all of its public records, per all of its taxes that are paid by the present owner (Washuta family), and that is theater and public assembly."
Though all of the seating was removed, "We want to be able to have a concept of a theater in there," Marasco said. "But it wouldn't be anything massive, because it doesn't hold that many."
"It would be an assortment of things," she added.
Calato, who is chairwoman of the Historic Lewiston Jazz Festival committee, said, "It's such a beautiful, intimate setting for music and for entertainment. There's nothing like that at all down here ... below the hill. We can bring in chamber music; we can bring in jazz; plays; there are all kinds of ideas that we have for this beautiful, intimate space. And I think it's the intimacy that's so great about it."
"Plus, it's a church, which is made for sound," Radford said. "That's really going to be helpful for us."
Radford and her husband, Keith, purchased and renovated the Center Street block housing Hurtin 4 Curtains, Angel to Apple and The Spicey Pickle.
"I've been looking up old pictures of the church, and we found out that, inside, what we thought was original dark wood was never original dark wood, but was painted wood," Radford said. "Which is great, because that's going to make it even look more open when we do it.
"The architecture inside is gorgeous. And with the windows - everything about it is exciting."
Pat Darrow, owner of MPD Architecture in Newfane, is the architect for this project.
Marasco explained, "We ... want to be able to have something for our community, to be able to come in and to use. Many people don't want to go above the hill. They want to have their family celebrations in a beautiful place, and that's what this would be."
"We don't think we should have to wait until August to hear good jazz," she said. "Why can't we do things in that beautiful building, because we have the expert here that knows how to do that. Or chamber music. We're not going to be Artpark rock. But we're going to be something that our people would like to enjoy.
"In the dead of winter, what can you do? Where can you go? Maybe family celebrations would be a part? After you have a baptism. After you have a confirmation. Special events in your family. Weddings. Someone could be married on that altar. ... They could have a reception right there. ... You could get married in the (Hennepin Park) gazebo and then come on over.
"You could have fundraisers in there. You could have corporate events in there. You could have so many things that it would become a well-used space."
Planning Board member and former Village of Lewiston Clerk/Treasurer Anne Welch said, "I'm all for this. I live across the street. ... I always look at it and think, 'I hope they maintain it.' ... I think it's a great idea."
"I think Linda and I have shown that we take care of what we build back up," Marasco said. "It's our money. We're not asking anybody for anything."
The Village Board has shown interest in this renovation plan. A public hearing, required as part of the special use permit application process, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7.
The church has 20 parking spaces. As the property has twice before hosted theater and community events, the Planning Board couldn't find any need for variances. It approved the idea with Marasco, a member of the board, abstaining from the vote.
She and her two partners have a sale pending with the current owner.
"We're hoping we're going to be ready late spring. By summer at the longest," Radford said. "Because we want to start booking things. People want to have weddings. We want to get them booked."
The church/theater would not have regular hours. It would be open by appointment.
"We're open to ideas," Calato added. "If it fits the space and our mission for the building, yes; we're open."
An artist's rendering of 800 Center St., which is set to become a restaurant. (Image courtesy of Fittante Architecture P.C.)
Architect Jim Fittante of Fittante Architecture P.C. presented an updated plan for 800 Center St., on behalf of the building's owner, Russ Conrad. Fittante said the former Dennis Brochey's Automotive is set to be turned into a diner serving American food.
The Planning Board had previously OK'd this idea, but it was delayed when Conrad couldn't come to an agreement with a potential tenant. The idea of a dentist's office was floated before Conrad and Fittante circled back to an eatery.
"I think it's going to fit in the village very nice," Fittante said.
Conrad has asked for an addition to the current building in order to create a larger kitchen and handicap-accessible bathrooms.
The property has the required number of parking spaces (eight). Fittante asked for two more, which would encroach village right-of-way. He reminded the Planning Board Brochey regularly parked cars in this area when he ran the automotive repair shop.
No objections were raised as the board approved the plan. It goes to the Village Board Monday.
"They're ready to put a shovel in the ground as soon as we have approval," Fittante said.
Brochey's closed in 2013.