Paramount to reopen under its original name
By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD - The two owners of the Hippodrome announced a new chapter in the life of the one-time majestic movie house at a press conference on Thursday.
With the sounds of the theater's Wurlitzer pipe organ playing in the background, Michael Barrasso and Steven Stein described a new role for the property. They plan to reopen the theater in six months as both a performing arts venue and banquet and events facility. They are also returning the original name to the building as the paramount.
They said they would be using the kitchen of the former Paramount Pizza - which has moved across the street - as the site's catering kitchen and announce a new restaurant tenant for the location of the former Luva restaurant in several weeks.
The Hippodrome - which operated primarily as a nightclub - had been closed since last fall when the two owners did not meet a state-imposed deadline to add additional fire sprinklers throughout the building. Barrasso and Stein surrendered their liquor license to the city as a result of the closing.
Barrasso and Stein had bought the Paramount - which opened in 1929 - in 1999 and spent a year and $2 million renovating the theater.
The two owners recently paid their back taxes for 2008 and 2009 with the city as well as paid taxes for 2010. The city had begun the foreclosure process on the property.
In order to finance the needed improvements, Barrasso and Stein recently closed on a major loan.
The first phase of the new renovations will include replacing the marquee, adding the sprinkler system and upgrading bathrooms as well as preparing the facility to be a site for banquets and functions.
Stein said he wouldn't rule out using the theater as a nightclub for one night in the future, but "it has to be more than that for its long term future."
Stein said the pair believes in the development of the city.
"We will be putting our checkbooks where our mouths are," he said.
The first phase represents an investment between $2 million and $3 million, Stein said.
The second phase would be to renovate the 40,000 square feet of office space currently unoccupied into two developments. One would be a shared office space complex where businesses could rent space and share a receptionist, conference rooms and other facilities.
The other use of the office space would be to renovate it into live and work spaces, especially attractive to artists.
Barrasso said the theater's organ would also be restored during the initial renovation process. Organist Thomas Stockton of Belchertown explained an organ such as the Paramount's was a relatively common part of a large movie theater in the late 1920s. There were more than 10,000 such organs - that even came with a bank of sound effects to accompany silent movies - in 1927, but there are fewer than 40 of the instruments still in their original installations today.
"It's in amazing condition for its age and what's been done for it," Stockton told Reminder Publications.
The Paramount opened on Sept. 29, 1929 as part of the Publix theater chain that was owned by Paramount Pictures. Reproductions of newspapers ads from the opening of the theater that Barrasso and Stein displayed at the press conference revealed the original construction price of $1.1 million.
State Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera attended the press conference and said, "I'm very proud of you guys and pleased you are reinvesting in the city of Springfield."