SALAMANCA - With a theater that bears his name and a month-long festival that pays homage to one of his most popular songs, Ray Evans has become one of Salamanca's most celebrated residents.
However, tying the Ray Evans Seneca Theater to the Silver Bells Festival has gone from difficult to impossible due to the theater's deteriorating condition. It has been over a year since a full-scale performance was hosted at the theater, and this year's Silver Bells stage show was performed at the Salamanca High School Auditorium while the theater on Main Street remained dark.
Officials at the Ray and Wyn Ritchie Evans Foundation, however, are leading a potential effort beginning in 2012 designed to bring together several key players in the theater's future to get the curtain back up and revive the facility.
Currently, the city-owned theater is home to the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association (CCLAA), but the last large event held at the facility was the Silver Bells "Hometown Christmas" play in 2010. Only minor events, such as the Kiwanis Halloween parade, have taken place there since.
Jenny Ingrao, event specialist for the Seneca Salamanca Chamber of Commerce, which coordinates Silver Bells, said the decision to host this year's performance at the high school was advised by the CCLAA Board of Directors.
"It was strongly advised that the production not be held (at the Ray Evans Seneca Theater) just for safety purposes," Ingrao said.
In addition to safety concerns for both chairs for the audience as well as the backstage area, the decision not to host any events there also lies with the current capabilities of the theater, CCLAA vice president Lori Lisi said.
"We just don't have the electrical capacity," she said. "Two days before last year's Silver Bells show I was trying to think how I'm going to light the stage with flashlights. Our electrical system is just belly up; it's not going to support anything."
New problems, old repairs
Despite several obstacles facing city officials and potential event organizers at the theater, the city has already invested more than $1 million in repair of the building since 2004, according to Matt Bull, director of the Salamanca Industrial Development Agency.
Some of the money was funded with state and federal economic development funds, Bull said. Other parts of the project were funded with a portion of the city's casino revenue it received from New York state.
"The theater remains an important asset, which is why the city had included it in its economic development spending plan and has subsidized the building's operation for many years," he said.
According to Bull, the city spent $400,000 in 2004 to rehabilitate the theater's roof, invested over $400,000 between 2004 and 2008 to improve the theater's parking lot and alleyway and also invested money in the marquee and upgrades to the electrical and air conditioning/heating systems.
The improvements at the theater were part of what was intended to be a large scale renovation to turn Salamanca's Main Street into a theater district, Lisi said. Beginning with improvements to the Ray Evans Seneca Theater, a plan authored by Duncan Webb included several short-term capital projects for the theater as well as changes to several Main Street storefronts.
"The city was able to implement many of (the improvements to the theater)," Bull said, noting projects such as the marquee, parking lot upgrades and electric and heating system changes were among those completed. He added, "however, the current fiscal climate doesn't allow for capital improvements right now."
Bull said the city is aware of anywhere from 50-100 seats that are in need of some level of repair, and Lisi noted when she looked into the potential repair of the chairs over three years ago, estimates were in the neighborhood of $10,000.
* This is a partial story. The full story can be found in the Dec. 15 edition of The Salamanca Press and online in the e-edition. *