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Owners have new plans for landmark downtown theater

Date: 2/17/2010

Feb. 17, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- The former Hippodrome, which has returned to its original name of The Paramount, received approval of its liquor license Thursday at the meeting of the Board of License Commissioners.

The new license will now have to be approved by the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission in Boston.

Owners Michael Barrasso and Steven Stein reported the building has passed all of its inspections for recently installed sprinkler system and has booked its first event, a salsa concert featuring merengue star Tono Rosario for March 13.

The state-mandated improvements of the building's sprinkler system cost over $200,000 they said. There will be additional cosmetic improvements made to the restored theater, but Barrasso said they would be made over time.

They and their attorney Thomas Rooke, told the board The Paramount will feature concerts, plays and sporting events as well as serve as a venue for wedding receptions and private parties.

The two owners said they already have five wedding parties interested in the venue.

Barrasso said there are "no plans at the moment" to use the former movie house as a dance club catering to a 18-plus audience, as the venue has been used in the past.

He added the next step in the conversion of the building is to renovate the former Paramount Pizza location so that kitchen can be used to cater events. He said once they are ready to go forward they will apply for an expansion of the liquor permit.

Stein said that for each event, about 50 people will be hired, but once operations expand he expects there will be about 120 part-time employees and 15 full-time.

The space once occupied by the Luva restaurant will be renovated into a new eatery, the Firefly Grill and Wine Bar. Barrasso said he and his brother Jim operate a restaurant by that name in Encinitas, Calif. He said he would bring the concept and menu of that establishment to Springfield.

With the re-opening of The Paramount, Barrasso said there would be an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) booked for a national television broadcast.