A community performing arts center is coming to the Amherst campus in Canterbury Woods, giving local residents the opportunity to see a variety of plays, musicals, concerts and other traveling shows alongside seniors who already live there.
The 250-seat facility – already dubbed “The Tulip” by Canterbury officials because its rounded shape resembles the flower – is designed to be comfortable and appealing to Canterbury residents and the general public, while also being attractive for the artists and traveling artists it would showcase.
Designed by Architectural Resources, the Canterbury Woods Performing Arts Center will feature wider seating and deeper aisles, allowing those in wheelchairs or other “assisted devices” to maneuver, and it has a subtle slope from back to front front instead of steps which constitute an obstacle for some. It will also have state-of-the-art technology for artists, including a green room.
“All of those things can make it very comfortable for residents of Canterbury Woods, but it will be a community theater,” said Rob Wallace, president and CEO of Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates, owner of Canterbury Woods. “Our residents are going to have the first to blush, but the wonderful thing about theaters in retirement communities is that there are actually entertainment groups touring across the country that specialize in this theater size.”
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Options for theater performances include music, dance and cover bands, or “any type of theatrical performance you can name,” Wallace said, and there are also local acts or bands from southern Ontario who might come, not to mention the Amherst Symphony Orchestra. or high school and college artists. Ticket sales and pricing details are still being worked out, but “our intention is to make this an open community theater,” with new shows coming in every week, Wallace said.
“We think this is going to be a fantastic outfit for Western New York, for Amherst,” said Wallace, who occasionally shows off his imitation Elvis wig during programs. “It’s going to give people in this area who maybe don’t go or wouldn’t go downtown regularly the opportunity to see some theatre.”
Canterbury planners consulted with local booking agents and professionals at Shea’s Performing Arts Center to determine what features would attract local performers, such as stage size, seating number and design, and audio-visual technology. Wallace plans to hire a theater manager to book performers, market shows, and manage day-to-day operations.
“This is designed to be a professional theater to attract people of national stature, but to do it in Amherst,” Wallace said. “New theaters don’t go up all the time. A lot of theaters are being upgraded or they’re older. Some of them are cramped. It’s going to be state of the art.”
And it will be directly connected to the main building so residents inside “don’t even have to leave the building”, he added.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits to the community, he noted, will be free parking. Canterbury Woods even plans to add around 100 spaces around the theater, on top of what the campus already has to offer.
“If you have to go downtown, you have to worry about parking and you definitely pay for it,” Wallace said. “Here on the Canterbury Woods campus, you just drive in.”
Wallace said retirement communities have been evolving for years, adding amenities like theaters to entice more people to move in. New communities now include these features from the start. And that pressure has only increased with the Covid pandemic prompting more older people to reconsider living alone after locking themselves in isolation for two years, he added. “A space like this allows us to attract those kinds of people,” he said.
On top of that, however, he said it provides an opportunity to educate and better understand the wider community. Canterbury Woods is one of the few statewide continuing care retirement communities, where residents typically buy into the community as independent seniors with guaranteed residency and then move up the care ladder according to needs through assisted living, memory care, or skilled care. feeding with milk.
“Even though we’ve been here for 23 years, people still see this as a retirement home, or a big retirement home or some hybrid of that,” Wallace said. “So our best opportunity to continue to educate the community is to bring them in and let them experience what Canterbury Woods is really about, which is a vital little town. It just so happens that the average age of this little town is 87 years old.”
Wallace said Canterbury Woods generates $30 million in economic benefits for the local economy each year – including taxes and utilities – with 350 employees and 400 residents. Occupancy at the two Canterbury campuses is currently around 93 per cent, with Gates Circle having “filled up dramatically” over the past eight months, he added. “Our sales are exploding. We’ve had a phenomenal last nine months,” he said.
Canterbury Woods has been planning the performing arts center since 2016 and won city approvals in 2019 and early 2020. Teams were due to start in April 2020, but the pandemic has turned everything upside down, including construction costs, which more than doubled. from $3.5 million to $7 million since the initial announcement. “This is fully approved,” Wallace said. “We just kicked the box forward.”
But the delay also indirectly resulted in the loss of a $500,000 naming rights donation from Andy Anselmo, Canterbury resident and celebrity vocal coach, who pledged his donation in September 2017 and even offered 200 $000 more, but died in March. By then, the gift had already been removed.
Meanwhile, the privately funded project is finally picking up again, with new individual donations totaling approximately $10,000 and a $500,000 donation from the Episcopal Church Home Foundation. The new 12,201 square foot center is currently under construction by Lehigh Construction Group on the south side of campus along Renaissance Drive, where it will be accessible to the public from the service driveway.
It was an area of green space that campus officials had planned to use for the expansion of residential buildings. But instead, Canterbury opened its Gates Circle facility in October 2017, where all but one of the ?? apartments is now occupied. “So that gave us an opportunity to rethink the space,” Wallace said.
The uniquely shaped concrete facility – completely different from the English cottage style of the rest of the campus – even attracts the attention of a very specialized group, but for a different reason. The National Red-Mix Concrete Association highlights the semi-circular shape of solid surface concrete, which will be formed and poured.
“Apparently the concrete guys in the country are excited for it to go up, so they can study it from an architectural perspective,” Wallace said. “They’re going to bring people from across the country into this business to see the project and spend a day talking to the contractors.”
The project is expected to be completed and open by May or June 2023.