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Thriving theater scene fuels local economy

Patrick Koster

Curtain Up! events hail the official start of the theater season, and many  business leaders view the celebration as a reminder that the theater industry has contributed to the region's resurgence.

The impact that Western New York's thriving theater scene has on the economy, tourism and downtown development is significant, according to numerous people interviewed by WBFO.

Downtown's Theater District has played a key role in helping to spur development, said Debra Chernoff, manager of Planning at Buffalo Place. She reflected on conditions that existed a few decades earlier.

“This part of downtown was really struggling, and a lot of vacancy, a lot of questions about how buildings would be used," she said. "It was entertainment and theaters that really brought this block back and the whole plan for creating a theater district.”

As new restaurants and hotels have opened in the downtown area, it has had a positive impact on tourism. Brian Hayden, communications manager at Visit Buffalo Niagara, said a thriving theater industry helps to lure outsiders to the region.

“I really think that the theater options in our performing arts scene are a critical component of the Buffalo visitor experience, particularly this time of year," he said. "As we end the summer and get into the fall, we’re entering the shoulder season of sort of hotel occupancy in Buffalo, and our performing arts scene

Credit Patrick Koster
Debra Chernoff is manager of planning at Buffalo Place, the entity that manages and markets much of the downtown core.

gives visitors all sorts of new reasons to explore the city."

One major initiative has involved a multi-phased project that has returned vehicles to Main Street in much of the downtown business district.

The question now is whether the development momentum that has been witnessed in recent years will continue. Chernoff is convinced the long-term future is bright.

“It’s slow, it’s steady, it’s year after year, it’s incremental change, and over time, that does seem to be more sustainable," she said. "Saying that, there does seem to be a change in downtown with so many new residences, so many new restaurants, so many new storefront stores, shops."

Tonight's Curtain Up! festivities include a black-tie gala dinner at Shea's Performing Arts Center and a street party on the 600-block of Main Street.

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