Construction is finally underway on the Richmond Methodist Episcopal Church. A team of artists, visionaries and developers are in the process of transitioning the church into a multipurpose art center, with a focus on dance and movement artists. Bits and pieces of Neil Radice’s (Alleyway Theater) original vision are coming into play for one of Richmond Avenue’s architectural anchors – it was back in February of 2014 when he finally passed the baton to the current owner and partners. Radice put upwards of a million dollars into the project, but never managed to obtain a C of O. Now this current team, led by owner/developer Rachel Heckl (photo – right) is taking a much different approach, while keeping the architectural integrity of the building intact.
Today’s far grander vision for the church is the creation of a much larger campus that will soon become an international arts destination on a level that the public is just starting to comprehend. The development includes the church and two additional neighboring structures, all of which will be converted into a visual performing arts center, business incubator, residential apartments, and art gallery, and event space. The complex will be utilized by local and traveling art, dance, community, music and theater organizations. As for a complete list of permanent tenants, those names will be announced in the near future.
Once operational, the main sanctuary will look and function much as it did when the building operated as a church. The use of Historic Tax Credits (building is on the National Register of Historic Places) ensures that the awesome architectural elements will be preserved. Eventually there will be a capacity for upwards of 500 seats in the main hall, with stage, original organ, fantastic wood and ornamental detail, and natural acoustics.
This project aims to enhance the growing momentum of Buffalo’s vibrant art community. This dynamic space will contribute value, assets and resources to the neighborhood and city.
The building as a whole will function as an ever-changing arts and performance center, with collaborative art space, a contemporary art gallery, an arts resource center, an incubator and culinary arts space. Every arts angle has been fleshed out, to accommodate the immediate community and traveling arts organizations. There will be short term living accommodations for traveling artists, and culinary component for caterers. Just as Pegulaville was built as a hockey destination, this art center (upwards of $2 million) is being built as a highly functional, all purpose arts destination.
Feature components include a black box space that can transition from an artist’s prep area to a reception area, a second storey auditorium, a new home for The Benjaman Gallery, on and off campus apartments, music practice rooms in the basement, a full two-storey modern addition (being constructed in the back where the parking lot is currently), spaces to accommodate conferences, weddings, and various education components. The entire building will retain a sense of openness, with unfettered views onto much of the creative space.
When asked about the artistic slant towards dance and movement artists, the point was made that until now there has not been a complex that was oriented specifically with dancers in mind. The development team reached out to over 50 advisors in order to showcase the space in the best possible artistic light. Just as Shea’s is devoted to theater, and Kleinhans is home to the philharmonic symphony, the former Richmond-Ferry Church will be known for its dedication to the dance world. At the same time, there will be plenty of other art mediums represented on a continual basis.
Members of the development team include historic and theater experts such as Watts Architecture & Engineering, BRD Construction, Blue Sky Concepts, Brad Wales Architecture, and KHH Historic Building Construction Group. The team is being sensitive to the historic nature of the building, while cleverly creating modern amenities that don’t disrupt the natural flow of the space.
A number of years ago, a developer proposed purchasing the church and turning it into a warehouse. At the time, there was not much hope for the building, and neighbors felt that that might be the only development option. Today, standing in the sanctuary, hearing about its formidable future, it was the perfect time to reflect upon all of the near misses, the close calls, and the divine outcome. This building sits on an Olmsted circle/parkway, and will soon be a cultural connector between The Richardson-Olmsted Complex and Kleinhans Music Hall/First Presbyterian Church.
I don’t think that anyone could have predicted the magnitude of this sensational architectural/cultural advancement. For years, this building stood as a reminder that it takes more than dreams to accomplish such a herculean undertaking. It takes buy-in from the community, a small army of dedicated people with a wide range of skills and talents, funding from various sources (private, State, Federal), and a stalwart leader. This project has all of that and more. And by the fall of 2017, Buffalo will be reaping the cultural rewards that go hand-in-hand with such an inspirational accomplishment. Sometimes you just have to have…
Lead image: Griffin Brady – Slyboots School of Music Art & Dance