Ortt wants governor, NY to reopen live entertainment venues

Provided photo, Sen. Ortt’s Office: State Sen. Robert Ortt spoke at a news conference today at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. That venue wants to reopen for live music, even if at 25 percent capacity with no concessions.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 September 2020 at 8:22 pm

NORTH TONAWANDA – Standing outside the Riviera Theatre, which has been closed for six months, State Sen. Rob Ortt today urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to allow theaters to reopen for live music and entertainment.

Theaters were expecting to be approved for reopening in Phase 4, but the state didn’t allow that.

Ortt said the state has allow NBC Studios to open, but not community theaters, including the Riviera in North Tonawanda and the Palace Theatre in Lockport. Not only does that put historic theaters on the brink, but it hurts musicians, technicians and other performers who depend on those venues.

David Fillenwarth, executive director of the Riviera, led a news conference today, saying the theater has a safety plan for reopening that has passed the Niagara County Health Department. He said the Riviera provides a critical boost to local restaurants and other small businesses, who see theater patrons before and after concerts and other performances.

Fillenwarth said the Covid-19 pandemic has threatened 90 percent of theaters with closure.

He has pressed the Governor’s Office for answers or a timeline on when theaters can reopen. He hasn’t received a reply.

The Riviera’s reopening plan would require patrons to line up 6 feet apart before a performance. There would be temperature checks for patrons, staff and artists.

Patrons and staff would be required to wear masks inside the building the entire time, including during performances.

The Riviera, if following similar guidelines for other larger venues, would be limited to a 50 percent capacity. Fillenwarth said the theater would happily reopen at 25 percent in the beginning of the reopening.

There wouldn’t be concessions, alcohol and merchandise sales. There wouldn’t be an intermission. A traffic flow for people would be mapped on the floor.

People could sit next to people in the same party, but then there would be two seats of space from the next group, and people would be seated every other row to allow for social distancing of 6 feet.

The Riviera would have security on hand to enforce mask wearing and guidelines, Fillenwarth said.

The theater also won’t allow its popular mosh pit for the many bands that perform at the site.

The Riviera would like to host its first shows on Sept. 25-26 with The Chicago Authority, a Chicago tribute band. At 25 percent capacity, the theater could have about 300 people for the event.

But the governor and state need to approve live entertainment in the reopening.

“We can no longer be ignored,” Fillenwarth said at the news conference, which is posted on the Riviera’s Facebook page. “It’s time to turn back on the light.”

Ortt knows the theater well from when he was North Tonawanda mayor. He said theaters and live entertainment are important cultural centers that provide an economic catalyst for downtown business districts.

He worries if theaters close they may not come back.

Ortt said the state hasn’t be fair with reopening businesses in Phase 4. Gyms and casinos had to wait long after phase 4 was introduced. Amd the state “selectively” allowed NBC Studios to open while smaller theaters are in limbo.

“The thought was they would be in phase 4 but they weren’t,” Ortt said. “There is no phase 5.”

He said he would press Cuomo and the State Senate and Assembly, which Demcoratic majorities, to reopen theaters.

Fillenwarth said the state needs to give the green light soon for the live entertainment industry.

“This is no longer wait and see,” he said. “We need an answer immediately. We got to find a way to make this work.”

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