08/08/06 — Paramount rising - Businessman to unveil plan to reconstruct historic theater

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Paramount rising - Businessman to unveil plan to reconstruct historic theater

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 8, 2006 1:54 PM

Throughout David Weil's childhood, the Paramount Theater brought "elegance," "glamour" and "mystery" to downtown Goldsboro, he said.

Now, decades later, he hopes to be a part of resurrecting the place where many of his fondest memories were made.

After months of working under the radar with an "ad hoc committee of 12 members" on a "doable plan," Weil presented working drawings Monday for a new Paramount to City Council members.

When he learned earlier this year that the reconstruction effort was at a standstill due to lack of funding for the estimated $12 million project, Weil said he decided to take action -- he said he knew there had to be a way to bring the price tag down.

"At that time, I felt that this ($12 million) was just beyond what the city should invest," he said. "Even I, as a supporter, felt that was unreasonable."

Then, at a May meeting of the Paramount Reconstruc-tion Committee, chairman Chuck Allen said city council members no longer considered the project a priority, citing lack of funding and support for the project as major reasons for shelving the effort.

"The community doesn't want it," Allen told committee members at the meeting. "No. 1, we don't have the money. And No. 2, there's no big group out there, besides the arts, supporting this thing."

Some prominent members of the arts community called the news "devastating" and "shocking." Weil said he realized the scope of the project was getting out of hand and requested a meeting with Mayor Al King to talk about the Paramount's future.

"I asked him if he would be supportive of a private citizen taking a look at this project on his own, investing his own money in planning and design, to see if there was a more reasonable approach," he said. "The mayor was very excited about that."

With the mayor's approval, Weil got started on a new theater plan. He hired Kinston architects Dunn and Dalton and a New York theater consultant, Charles Costler to begin pencil sketches of a new Paramount. Contractor T.A. Loving was also brought onto the team.

"I felt that Mr. Costler and Mr. Dalton could develop a real plan," he said.

Subsequently, Weil learned that the city had recently acquired the building immediately to the south of the Paramount site, the former home of Phoenix Construction Co. He went to his design team and told them to ignore his initial request for a design to fit the Paramount's original footprint and work on a new concept -- a larger theater.

"I knew that (the City Council) had acquired that property to support the development of the theater," Weil said. "Therefore, I changed what I said to Mr. Dalton and Mr. Costler. I told them, 'see what you can put back on those two contiguous parcels of land.' As a matter of fact, the end result proves that the Phoenix building was critical to the project. To meet the various handicapped and bathroom requirements, having that Phoenix site is really what made the rest of the development practical. So, that was an excellent acquisition by the city."

The inclusion of the Phoenix building gave designers the opportunity to add several features and expand on others, Weil added.

"The Phoenix building also permitted me to enlarge the stage," he said. "It's bigger than it was in the original Paramount, and it's large enough now so that larger versions of the symphony, for example, can play there. Before, they were very crowded on that stage."

The facility itself also grew -- to more than 15,000 square feet -- and Weil's plans add to the Paramount's original seat count, too.

"What was especially pleasing to me is that we were able to meet all of the handicapped and bathroom requirements and still ended up being able to put 556 seats into the theater," he said. "Previously the Paramount only had around 530."

Once the preliminary drawings came back from Costler and Dalton, Weil said they went through a series of revisions to cut down costs and make sure the building fit in downtown. The end result, which he presented in detail to council members Monday, did just that, he said -- and for much less than the estimated $12 million proposed by the Paramount Reconstruction Committee.

Weil's plans call for a $5 million project, he said -- a price tag that doesn't include the close to $1 million in insurance money from the Paramount fire.

"What that means is for just over $5 million, we can have what amounts to a turnkey theater," Weil said.

The total includes all the funds necessary to complete the plans he started, he said. It also covers all costs associated with construction, the purchase of theatrical equipment and an acoustical consultant who will ensure shows "sound perfect."

The final product, if approved by the council, would look much the same as the original theater from the outside, Weil said, but the inside would look much different.

The plan features a revamped first floor, equipped with a box office, concession area and bathrooms, loading dock, control booth, seats, the stage and more.

The second floor also features a large lobby, one that looks down over the theater's entrance. A 142-seat balcony, bathrooms, storage space and lighting would also be housed on this floor, Weil said.

Finally, the third level would include a lighting oval and catwalks.

The plan also includes office space, stairs leading to the second floor, an elevator, fly space, a trap room and an orchestra pit -- all for close to $7 million less than the city's plan, he said.

Still, Weil realizes that despite the fact that his plan saves money, to some Goldsboro and Wayne County residents, a $5 million theater will seem impractical.

"There are people who will say, 'but we need a convention center or we need a community building.' And we do, just like we need streets, schools, libraries and sidewalks," he said. "We need all of those things, and that's what makes a community better. I can't speak to the allocation of resources. That's something the council and commissioners speak to all the time. I say this is simply an amenity that's important to the city."

An amenity that Weil and others said they prefer to a convention center or community building, he added.

"I relate to the fact that I love the theater," Weil said. "And I recognize that a lot of people don't. It seems to me that one of the reasons for living in a city is to try to enjoy some of those varied amenities, whether you're a sports enthusiast or a lover of the arts. One of the good reasons to live in a city is that there are usually a variety of things available. A theater is just one of those things that adds opportunity. It's simply another facility that makes things possible."

Weil said he hopes both the community and council members realize those possibilities soon so that pageants, musicals, recitals and concerts can mesmerize crowds downtown before next Christmas.

"We need to go ahead and commit and build the building," he said. "The city needs to consider a commitment of $4 million and the insurance money. Then, we will work hard to get the gifts and pledges and grants. Hopefully, it will bring the city's cost substantially down."

At the end of his presentation, he thanked his "ad hoc committee," the nameless supporters who kept the Paramount dream alive.

King thanked Weil for his hard work and for addressing the council, calling him a "hero."

"I think you told us much, much more than we could have hoped for," King said. "You've done your part and now we, as a city, need to take the ball and run with it. And I think we will."

And while Weil is "cautiously optimistic" that council members and residents will embrace his idea and move forward with construction, he understands that a new Paramount might not be in the cards.

Still, he hopes the plan comes to fruition -- to help adults and children alike make memories like the ones he did as a boy.

"When I was a child, it was the most elegant theater in the city," he said. "The Paramount was, in those days, elegant to a child living in a small town. I have fond memories there. It was just a theater in the sense of the grand old design. To me it just spoke of opulence. I guess in a way, it had a sense of glamour and mystery about it, too."