RBTL gets $2M to make renovation goals a reality

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Rochester theater scene got a $2 million boost from the New York State Assembly Tuesday morning.

The Rochester Broadway Theatre League was awarded $2 million to help with its major renovation plans.

Back in March, the performing arts nonprofit achieved the decades-long goal of acquiring the entire auditorium theatre complex on East Main Street for $2.5 million. At the time, they announced their major renovation goals, and estimated a total of $12.5 million to fund those.

Tuesday’s state funding allows RBTL to start turning those goals into a reality.

“What we want to do is restore the building really to its former glory, make it more accessible for people of all ages, and make the experience of coming to the theatre that much better,” board member Philip Puchalski said.

The first thing on their long to-do list is a new-and-improved back entrance. This will lead attendees past brand-new elevators that will help guests get to the upper floors. The order has been placed, and employees say work will begin as soon as those elevators arrive.

But will RBTL shut down for construction?

“That’s the key, we can’t do that,” Chief Operations Officer John Parkhurst said. “We have to do the renovations around our existing schedule […] It’s going to take a little bit longer, it’s going to cost a little bit more money, but we’re trying to do it the right way.”

Parkhurst has been with RBTL since the beginning, literally.

“I’m actually the original employee of RBTL — I have 50 years in this business,” Parkhurst said with a smile.

He described his time with the nonprofit as a roller coaster.

“I’ve seen a lot. There’s not too much we haven’t seen or done in this business. So, it’s an exciting journey. Because of what we’re doing right now, it’s fun to come to work every morning,” Parkhurst said.

He said the nonprofit has come a long way from their early days, when they split their time between the rented auditorium complex and Eastman Theater. But today, things are different.

“‘Frozen’ and ‘Moulin Rouge,’ they’re both here for 16 performances each. We have ‘Hamilton,’ ‘Lion King’ – you see it all here,” he said.

And attendees will continue to see it all for years to come, with renovations like these.

The goal is to finish the project in time for the building’s 100th anniversary in 2030. But there won’t necessarily be a grand reveal, as the changes will keep taking place in between performances.

“There’s not going to be a new performing arts center like this,” Parkhurst said. “It’s important that we make this last for generations to come. and that’s what this funding does today, it starts the ball rolling.”