By Mike DePietro
On Tuesday, the Niagara Greenway Commission determined the refurbishment of the U.S. Military Post Theater at Fort Niagara State Park was in keeping with the Greenway Plan’s goals, principles and vision. Niagara Post Theater Inc. (NPT) is requesting $120,000 to repair the theater’s ailing roof. The nonprofit group is slated to go before the Host Community Standing Committee in September for final approval.
Earlier this year, NPT entered into a 20-year cooperative agreement lease with the state of New York, allowing for rent-free usage of the theater site in exchange for the venue being renovated, improved and maintained in accordance with state Historical Preservation Office requirements, and becoming Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. Greenway funds would be used to begin phase one of a three-phase plan to renovate the shuttered theater.
NPT President David Graf said the theater plan has garnered praise from the community.
“I mean, there’s so many people that have come up to me and said, ‘You know, I’ve seen that building for years and I’ll never understand why somebody hasn’t done something with it.’ ”
At Tuesday’s meeting – held on the Fort Niagara grounds – the praise continued.
Greenway Commission Vice Chairman Richard F. Soluri extended his own compliments toward the idea.
“I just think this is perfect, and I hope we can realize this dream,” he said. “To me, it’s a homerun. It’s a touchdown. It’s a goal. It’s all these things.”
After the meeting, an elated Graf invited attendees to walk over and take a look inside the theater.
Initially, Graf hoped the theater could be open with “basic functionality” as early as 2020, with construction estimated to take 18 months. Per that plan, roof repairs would need to be completed by this September. Graf said that timeframe was necessary in order in order to prevent further deterioration, and to allow time for the building’s interior plaster materials to settle before winter.
That plan might be delayed, however, as after the commission’s vote, NPT encountered a slight setback. Before NPT’s proposal can be brought before the Greenway Standing Committee, it must first go before a Niagara County ad hoc committee. Afterward, it must be voted on by the Niagara County Legislature before it can go before the Standing Committee. This means the earliest NPT would likely receive the roof funding would be in September.
In addition to Greenway funding, the NPT is also looking to secure funds from other organizations and sources, including a recently launched crowdfunding effort on GoFundMe, which can be found at www.niagaraposttheater.org.
“There are so many people who’ve offered to help, it’s unbelievable,” Graf said.
The NPT plan is to transform the Post Theater into a modern, multipurpose performing arts venue that can accommodate a mixture of films, live performance, recitals and concerts. The prospect Graf is perhaps most excited about is a proposed year-round children’s theater. It was Graf’s daughter’s involvement in theater that led him to want to pursue the Post Theater’s revival.
“What we’re trying to do is build community, and that’s what theater does,” he said. “I got into this because I saw what it did with kids, and the extended families it creates.”
Additionally, plans for the Post Theater include options for space rental for events such as weddings and graduations. The hope is that, through a mix of year-round public offerings and encouraging consistent usage of the facility, the theater can maintain long-term viability and sustainability.
The Post Theater was originally built in 1931, while the U.S. Army operated Fort Niagara. It served as a venue for soldiers and families who lived at the fort to watch films. The theater closed in 1963 after the Army officially deactivated the fort and the venue has remained largely unused since. According to NPT, the theater had been minimally maintained throughout the years in the hope of it someday being restored.
The Post Theater was just one of four projects brought before the Greenway Commission on Tuesday. Other projects included:
•Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is seeking to create a Buffalo Blueway-to-Greenway network to help connect an expanded network of public access and recreation points between the Buffalo and Niagara regions.
•The City of Niagara Falls requested $120,000 for the development of a cohesive waterfront revitalization plan.
•Tifft Nature Preserve requested $344,754 in funding for a three-year project to restore and protect environmental conditions at Mosquito Junction, running from fall 2019 through summer 2022.
These projects also were found to be in keeping with the Greenway Plan’s stated mission.
Approved Niagara River Greenway Plan projects are funded by the New York Power Authority. In March 2007, NYPA was granted a new, 50-year federal license to operate its Niagara Power Project. As part of the agreement, the Power Authority agreed to provide $450 million in Greenway projects over the course of the agreement.
As of 2016, NYPA issued over $289 million in benefits to Western New York.
The next commission meeting will be held Sept. 10. For more information, call the Niagara River Greenway Commission at 716-278-1769.