Ani’s Righteous Church

Ani DiFranco and manager Scot Fisher are partnering on a $10 million renovation project that will convert a gothic-style 140-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., church into a 1,200-capacity performing arts venue.

“It’s basically a big ol’ church,” Fisher told Pollstar. “We just walked in and [Ani] said, ‘What a great performance hall this would be.'”

“The Church” will be owned by DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. The label’s offices will be inside the three-story building. It will be shared with Buffalo’s Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, a gallery and 80-seat screening theatre.

Fisher describes the facility as a “small performing arts center,” saying there’s no need to worry about simultaneous events because of the two-foot-thick walls.

“Even if there’s not a performance happening in the hall, there might be an art opening or a film taking place in the basement,” Fisher said. “Any one of these things can happen separately or at the same time.”

The idea to restore the downtown church came in 1995 when Fisher – who is also president of Righteous Babe – read an article about the city’s plan to demolish the massive building after stone began to fall from its 185-foot steeple.

Fisher and DiFranco decided to step in and purchase the church from the city for $175,000. The singer’s already committed $2.7 million to the project. Fisher doesn’t expect her to make that money back anytime soon. But that’s fine, he says. For her, the venture is more spiritual than financial.

“We wouldn’t go into any city and try to save a building,” Fisher said. “Ani and I both grew up in Buffalo; it’s our home. … She might not get it financially but she’s going to get it spiritually.”

The performance hall (tentatively named Asbury Hall) in The Church, which is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, will also be used for varied events such as political fund-raisers, weddings, bar mitzvahs and community events.

Fisher describes the open-floor hall as a ballroom-type setting with balcony seating available. He added the 45-foot-high ceiling gives the room a resonant sound with beautiful reverb. Strategic curtaining will be used to dampen the sound.

“As time goes on, we’ll see what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

The basement has also been excavated to install a heating and air-conditioning system, dressing rooms, production office, lounge area, and separate bathrooms and showers for crews.

DiFranco first christened The Church two years ago while rehearsing for a summer tour. The singer is reportedly in the middle of a year-long hiatus from touring to allow her wrists and hands to recover from tendinitis. She did say, however, that she will occasionally hold concerts at the venue and more pre-tour rehearsals there, according to The Buffalo News.

The principals want the venue to have a good reputation. To accomplish that, Fisher says they’ll be selective about who plays there. Dark nights will be part of the formula. He made the comparison to New York City’s Carnegie Hall, saying concert-goers know a show will be good simply because of the hall’s good rep.

“It’s like Roseland in New York. It’s a big, open room. If it’s a standing room, rock ‘n’ roll show, then we’ll have no seats and it will be like a House of Blues. If it’s a quieter event … it may seat between 850 and 900.”

So far, no shows are on the books and Fisher says the venue will be non-exclusive. The plan is to work with a number of promoters while doing occasional in-house promo.

“In Buffalo, the market isn’t that tight, so we want to keep it an open hall,” he said. “So if new promoters come up on the horizon, the hall is available.”

The Church’s interim manager Misha Hoffman can be contacted at [email protected].

– Mitchell Peters