RBTL has contract to buy entire Auditorium Theatre building

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. Well, this should do it for any talk of a new performing arts center.

The Rochester Broadway Theatre League is buying the entire Auditorium Theatre property. RBTL has owned the theatre on East Main Street in Rochester for 19 years but if they used any other part of the building, they had to rent it.

That’s one reason why there’s no use for a new theatre now. The other reason is the way your tickets are priced.

“Arnie, what is this room right here?” I asked RBTL CEO Arnie Rothschild.
“Okay, this is the cathedral room,” he said, pointing to a large photo of the room.

RBTL is buying the entire 96-year-old Masonic temple, full of ornate rooms that most people have never seen.

“All different sizes. All different configurations,” Rothschild said. “But all of that quality.”

RBTL announced the purchase agreement at a news conference on stage Monday. Over the past two decades, I’ve been with Rothschild as he advocated for a new, larger performing arts center including one at the corner of Main St. and Clinton Avenue in the failed Renaissance Square project, one on Parcel 5 downtown and one in the shuttered Riverside Hotel. Every single time, the plan fell through.

“So why is this the answer now?” I asked.
“Well there are three reasons,” Rothschild said. “The first is the industry changed its pricing model.”

It’s called dynamic pricing. Before, theatre tickets had to sell for the price that was printed on the ticket. Now, just like airlines or hotels, ticket prices go up with demand.

“So that’s changed the math,” Rothschild said. “This is a 2,500-seat venue – 2,464 – but this now can generate as much revenue as a 2,900-seat venue.”

After the deal closes in the next month, the first changes you’ll see are a repaired elevator and refinished brass doors and light fixtures, all in parts of the property RBTL has not owned. You’ll hear a new sound system in the theatre. But RBTL wants to renovate places like the cathedral room for smaller theatre groups.

“And I think there’s a lot of wonderful things that can happen here,” said William J. Ferguson II, executive director of Garth Fagan Dance.

“We are desperate for spaces,” said Mary Tiballi Hoffman, Executive Director of Black Friars Theatre. “There are so many local non-profit groups that are trying to rent space piecemeal throughout the community and by renovating and investing in this project it opens up a lot of possibilities for folks who don’t have a home to find a home.”

RBTL believes the renovations will take six years. They want to be done when the original Masonic temple turns 100 years old. That’s 2030.