02/27/05 — City officials plan to be deliberate with plans for Paramount

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City officials plan to be deliberate with plans for Paramount

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on February 27, 2005 2:08 AM

A week after the Paramount Theater burned, Goldsboro officials do not know if, when or how it will be replaced.

And they do not know when they'll know.

"We're still in the early stages, but we're gathering some good information," City Manager Joe Huffman said Friday. "Our timetable will be very deliberate. We want to give all our options a lot of thought.

"It seems like everybody's focus is let's do it right rather than let's do it fast."

At their meeting Monday night, City Council members said that they want to rebuild the Paramount on the same location, even preserving and restoring the front wall.

When he saw the fire damage, Mayor Al King felt "sick, like I had lost a child," he said. Many people are feeling the same loss and will not be satisfied unless the theater is rebuilt.

But city officials also realize that it could be prohibitively expensive to rebuild. One construction firm gave the city a preliminary estimate of $20,000 per seat for a 300-seat theater, slightly less per seat for a larger theater.

That would mean it would cost the city at least $6 million to replace the Paramount, which had 503 seats on two levels.

Its insurance will likely pay up to $1 million for cleanup and another $1 million in replacement costs for the building and contents.

The city's other options are to do nothing, to open a theater on another site, or to speed up plans for a civic center that would include a performing arts venue.

The City Council will likely appoint a committee to look at its options and to make a recommendation.

Huffman has proposed the committee include, in addition to council members and city staff, Charles Gaylor, a local lawyer and historian who assisted in the Paramount's renovation 15 years ago; Steve Hicks of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce; and representatives of Stage Struck and Center Stage theater groups and of the Arts Council. Others could be added, he said.

Gaylor plans to lobby for the new Paramount to spring from the ashes, he said Friday. "I absolutely believe that we need to build it back where it was and as quickly as possible."

While the theater, built in 1882, has tremendous historical significance, it has been as important as an attraction, Gaylor said. "Every weekend, it has brought hundreds of people to downtown Goldsboro and to the city in general. That's a lot of people eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores, some even staying in hotels."

He continued, "It draws in some many people, not just Goldsboro people, that it's hard to underestimate its economic impact."

Downtown protection

Regardless of what happens with the theater, Goldsboro officials believe they may need to take action to prevent future fires in the downtown area.

"Within eight months, we lost two historic buildings that had been here for 100 years," said Mayor King. "It's probably coincidence but something we need to look at."

In May 2004, the Wayne County Community Building, built as a tribute to local soldiers who died during World War I, was heavily damaged by a fire. Although its trustees initially hope to reconstruct the building, it ultimately had to be demolished.

No one was injured in either fire, but Councilman Chuck Allen said, "One day one of these buildings will have someone in it. That's what scares me."

The City Council has had some preliminary discussions about appointing a committee to evaluate the downtown buildings for the risk of fire.

That area is under the most restrictive part of the building code, said Ed Cianfarra, the city's chief inspector. But because many of those buildings have never been renovated, the owners have not had to bring them up to standards, he said.

"Getting people to spend what it would take, that is where it would get difficult," Cianfarra said.

Fire alarms would help but by themselves would provide insufficient protection, officials say. After all, the Paramount had an alarm system, but it was not wired to an outside monitoring agency, nor was it set up to alert the fire department.

By the time someone spotted the Paramount fire and called 911, the fire had breached the roof. Smoke was so thick on Center Street that the fire department had trouble positioning its trucks.

"It was too late to do anything but contain the damage," Fire Chief Bobby Greenfield said.

Greenfield believes that the city needs to require sprinkler systems in some buildings, especially those with the potential for heavy damage or loss of life.

"A sprinkler system would have kept the Paramount fire in check," he said. "I don't know if we could have saved the theater, but it's possible. ... There's never been a life lost in a sprinkler-system building."

The city is not planning to include a sprinkler system in the new section of City Hall now under construction. Architect Grimsley Hobbs said, though, that the building will be built to slow the progression between floors. It will have an alarm system for both fire and security.

When the city begins renovation of the current City Hall, it may want to consider installing sprinklers, Hobbs added. The building is a fire risk, he said, due to the amount of wood in its structure.