$150,000 Grant from Governor's Western New York Regional Economic Development Council Re-Opens Neighborhood Landmark to the Public, Revitalizes Bailey Avenue Business Corridor
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the grand opening of the Varsity Theatre, a newly renovated multi-functional music and event space located at 3165 Bailey Avenue on Buffalo's East Side. Extensive renovations to the neighborhood landmark were completed with a $150,000 Urban Initiatives grant from Round III of Governor Cuomo's Regional Economic Development Council Initiative.
"Investments to revive important historic and cultural landmarks like the Varsity Theatre are essential for building strong, vibrant communities," Governor Cuomo said. "Thanks to the hard work of the Regional Economic Development Council and its partners in the community, Buffalo continues to be a national model for capitalizing on a region's assets to grow its economy."
The $150,000 grant was awarded to the University District Community Development Association by New York State Homes and Community Renewal to support extensive renovations of the theater. The project has transformed the theatre into a multi-functional event space that includes a 300 seat theatre space, as well as a tiered seating and banquet area that can accommodate an additional 270 patrons. Additional work included HVAC system upgrades, new bathrooms, dressing rooms, insulated walls and exit doors, and architectural repair work.
The Varsity Theatre complements other state investments that are continuing to promote progress and redevelopment in Buffalo communities and downtown. On February 2, Governor Cuomo announced funding applications are available through the second round of the $30 million Better Buffalo Fund, a vital component of the Buffalo Billion dedicated to projects that encourage density and growth along transportation corridors and revitalize neighborhood commercial districts.
"This is exactly the kind of project Governor Cuomo intended to grow through the Regional Economic Development Councils," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who chairs the councils. "By creating modern, versatile and forward-thinking community spaces like this, we’re breathing new life and stability into our communities. This is win for Bailey Avenue and Buffalo’s East Side."
The Varsity was built in 1926 and has been known by many names including the Circle Arts, Capri Art Theatre, and Uptown Theatre of Performing Arts before closing its doors. The theater was purchased in 2010 by Ibrahim Cissé, President of Bailey Avenue Business Association. The theater will offer film viewings, music, stage performances, and host community events.
Ibrahim Cissé, President and founder of the Bailey Business Association said, "The Varsity Theatre brings a spotlight to Bailey Avenue and signals that it is our neighborhood’s time to shine. We thank Governor Cuomo for supporting this multi- functional project. Now, for the first time in a decade, the doors of this historic building will be open for concerts, lectures, festivals and weddings. Today we truly have something to celebrate on Buffalo’s East Side."
Western New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair and President of SolEpoxy Inc. Jeff Belt said, "The Varsity Theater project is an excellent example of how the REDC process is working to lift up communities by responding to the needs of neighborhoods. We applaud the theatre on its grand opening and look forward to seeing it utilized by those attending plays, educational events, movies and community gatherings. Congratulations on creating a vibrant meeting place for Buffalo's East Side"
Western New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair and University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi said, "The Varsity Theater is an exciting project for our community. The theater is a cultural focal point for the East Side where residents can enjoy theatrical productions, attend classes and participate in an array of community activities. The historic theater has been a significant part of the East Side for generations and we imagine the same for generations to come."
Senator Timothy Kennedy said, "I want to thank Governor Cuomo and the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council for investing in the rebirth of this important landmark. I was proud to support a state grant to bring this Buffalo icon back to life, and thanks for the dedication of Ibrahim Cisse, the community now has its theatre back. We now have an incredible asset in our backyard that not only preserves history for future generations, but spurs economic development and offers quality entertainment experiences for people of all ages to enjoy."
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, "I am thrilled to see the Varsity Theatre come back to life. This will become a great gathering place for the Bailey Avenue neighborhood and a catalyst for the continued development of this community. I want to thank and Mr. Cissé for his extraordinary vision, and Governor Cuomo for his support."
City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, "I commend Ibrahim Cissé for his determination to get this project done and his commitment to the Bailey Avenue Business District and neighborhood. The Varsity Theatre will be a real asset to this neighborhood and we continue to see this kind of excitement and investment in neighborhoods all across the city."
Commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James S. Rubin said, "The University District Community Development Agency is the author of this new chapter for the Varsity Theatre. This community pulled together to compete for and win this essential funding from the Governor's Regional Economic Development Council. A growing community is a strong community – we at HCR are proud of the role we are able to play to bring projects like Varsity Theatre to fruition."
Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, "We are pleased the WNYREDC played an important role in the revitalization of the historic Varsity Theatre on Buffalo's East Side. The theatre will now serve the community in a variety of ways, bringing a new vitality to the neighborhood and proving a meeting place for area residents to enjoy for a wide scope of activities. Congratulations to everyone who worked tirelessly to bring the Varsity Theatre back to life."
University District Community Development Association Executive Director Roseann Scibilia said, "Neighborhoods become great when the Theatre has become a symbol of what a community can accomplish when working toward a common vision. Sweat equity has become the new capital of University District and we hope this is just the start!"
About the Regional Economic Development Councils
The Regional Economic Development Council initiative is a key component of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's transformative approach to State investment and economic development. In 2011, Governor Cuomo established 10 Regional Councils to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth for their regions. The Councils are public-private partnerships made up of local experts and stakeholders from business, academia, local government, and non-governmental organizations. The Regional Councils have redefined the way New York invests in jobs and economic growth by putting in place a community-based, bottom up approach and establishing a competitive process for State resources. After five rounds of the REDC process, nearly $4 billion has been awarded to more than 4,100 job creation and community development projects consistent with each region's strategic plans, supporting the creation or retention of approximately 200,000 jobs.
Since 2011, the Western New York REDC has secured a significant amount of resources for their region, totaling $356.4 million supporting 429 projects.
For more information on the Regional Councils, visit www.regionalcouncils.ny.gov.