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RBTL plans to buy, renovate the Auditorium Theatre complex it long argued was inadequate. Here's why

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Max Schulte
Rochester Broadway Theatre League CEO Arnie Rothschild announced plans to purchase the remaining portion of the Auditorium Theatre in Rochester along with needed restoration and improvements to the building.

Rochester Broadway Theatre League is buying the remainder of the Auditorium Theatre complex, officials announced Tuesday.

RBTL will spend $2.4 million on the deal, which it expects to close in April.

The nonprofit has owned part of the East Main Street complex since 2004. But theater officials have for years decried the limitations of the venue. Not enough seating, they said. The stage wasn’t built for traveling Broadway shows. The orchestra pit was too small. The loading docks were insufficient. The dressing rooms were dated.

Tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent on studies, designs and planning for a new theater. All those plans fell through. Fortunately so, it seems.

Arnie Rothschild, the theater group’s CEO who has led the charge for a new venue, called it a relief to be staying put.

“This is going to be our home,” he said at a news conference held on the theater stage.

A changing industry made it possible, he and others said. Dynamic pricing allows the venue to generate significantly more revenue, reducing the pressure or requirement for increased seating. Technology has transformed once bulky and heavy stage sets, notably through the use of computer-generated projections.

Taking control of the entire venue also will mean taking control of parking, and all the revenue that will generate. RBTL also will capture the rental income for spaces like Cathedral Hall.

Once the sale closes, RBTL plans to launch a $12 million renovation and restoration to replace an elevator, renovate the lobby, improve accessibility and address other needs.

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Some of the $1 million in new sound equipment awaiting installation inside the Auditorium Theatre sits on stage Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. The Rochester Broadway Theatre League's chief executive Arnie Rothschild announced plans Tuesday to buy the remaining portion of the Auditorium Theatre building in Rochester and undertake restoration and improvements to the building.

The goal is to raise $6 million through fundraising (including naming rights), and that the state will pick up the rest — possibly split over several budget years. The group has the support of Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, the dean of the local delegation, a spokesman for Bronson confirmed. A meeting with the local delegation is being planned in the coming weeks.

RBTL already is spending nearly $1 million on a new sound system.

A total price tag for what is anticipated to be a six-year construction project was not announced.

The purchase will use up nearly the entirety of RBTL’s reserves, officials said.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.