Auditorium Theatre becomes West Herr Performing Arts Center under naming-rights deal 

click to enlarge An architectural rendering of an east wing expansion of the West Herr Performing Arts Center.

Photo provided by Rochester Broadway Theatre League

An architectural rendering of an east wing expansion of the West Herr Performing Arts Center.

The Auditorium Theatre is now the West Herr Auditorium Theatre and Performing Arts Center under a new naming-rights deal between the venue’s owner and the multibillion-dollar car dealership West Herr Automotive Group.

Representatives of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League, which owns the theater, and West Herr announced the sponsorship deal outside the East Main Street theater on Tuesday morning before a crowd of about 100 people.

Arnie Rothschild, the chief executive of the RBTL, said the agreement reflected a shared vision of advancing the arts in Rochester.

“This is a huge undertaking for us both, but this partnership shares the goal of creating a premier destination for Rochester entertainment,” he said.
click to enlarge Rochester Broadway Theatre League purchased the entire Auditorium Theatre complex in early 2023. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester Broadway Theatre League purchased the entire Auditorium Theatre complex in early 2023.
Rothschild declined to disclose the financial terms of the deal, saying the amount West Herr will invest in exchange for the naming rights was “proprietary information.” But he called West Herr’s commitment “sustaining,” and said the company’s name would occupy the marquee for well in excess of 10 years.

Scott Bieler, the president of West Herr, said the investment was a chance for the company to thank Rochester for its support.

“There’s a reason we made this commitment to the city of Rochester and to this historic institution, and it’s simply to repay in a small way the amazing support the people of Rochester have given us,” he said. “In reality, we are re-giving what has already been given to us.”

The deal was struck amid ambitious renovation plans for the theater and follows an aggressive expansion by West Herr, which is headquartered in the Buffalo area, into the Rochester market.

The RBTL has owned part of the building that houses the theater since 2004. But the organization announced early this year that it had bought the rest of the space from a private firm and had plans for $12 million in renovations.

RELATED: RBTL plans to buy, renovate the Auditorium Theatre complex it long argued was inadequate

The work will include reconfiguring much of the first floor, replacing doors and an elevator, upgrading the lobby, and improving overall accessibility. Some of that construction is being financed by state and federal grants.
click to enlarge Arnie Rothschild, the president of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League, announcing plans for the organization to purchase the remainder of the Auditorium Theatre complex in February 2023. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Arnie Rothschild, the president of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League, announcing plans for the organization to purchase the remainder of the Auditorium Theatre complex in February 2023.
But on Tuesday morning Rothschild cast those plans as only the initial phase of renovations, and said the building would be remade to house six floors of entertainment space once the project was completed.

He projected that work to cost between $35 million and $40 million and to continue through 2030.

As he spoke, images of architectural renderings of a revamped Auditorium Theater ran on a loop on video monitors behind him, showing a glass-encased addition on the east side of the building and new entrances for casts and crews.

“The West Herr part is the linchpin to everything else we were doing,” Rothschild said.
click to enlarge An architectural rendering of an east wing expansion of the West Herr Performing Arts Center. - PHOTO PROVIDED BY ROCHESTER BROADWAY THEATRE LEAGUE
  • Photo provided by Rochester Broadway Theatre League
  • An architectural rendering of an east wing expansion of the West Herr Performing Arts Center.
West Herr is the largest auto dealer in New York and ranked No. 17 among the largest in the nation, according to the data compiled by Automotive News.

The company was founded in the Buffalo area in 1950, but has been steadily expanding into the Rochester area since 2010, acquiring 13 car dealerships in Monroe and Ontario counties since then. The company generated $3.2 billion in revenue in 2021, according to Automotive News.

A state-of-the-art performing arts center in Rochester has been an elusive vision of RBTL and elected officials for the better part of 30 years.

They had argued that the roughly 2,700-seat Auditorium Theatre was inadequate to stage modern traveling Broadway shows. The orchestra pit was too small. The dressing rooms were dated.
click to enlarge An architectural rending of a cast entrance at the West Herr Performing Arts Center. - PHOTO PROVIDED BY ROCHESTER BROADWAY THEATRE LEAGUE
  • Photo provided by Rochester Broadway Theatre League
  • An architectural rending of a cast entrance at the West Herr Performing Arts Center.
Only a new performing arts center, they argued, could keep Broadway tours and big-name acts coming to town, along with the $50 million the RBTL estimates they pump into the local economy annually. 

Such a center has been the subject of numerous taxpayer-funded studies and plans that, at one time or another, had it being built in 19 different locations.

When the RBTL announced in February that it intended to acquire the portions of the Auditorium Theatre building it did not already own, it appeared the organization was prepared to finally embrace the place as home.

In his remarks to the crowd on Tuesday, Mayor Malik Evans touched on the saga of organization’s wanderlust and on-again-off-again love affair with the theater, which originally opened as a Masonic Temple in 1930.

“I remember all the iterations when we talked to the community about where we were going to build our performing arts location, and now we have one right where we are,” Evans said. “They say home is where the heart is, and it seems like the heart is right here on East Main Street.”
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