08/22/06 — Theater, building get look

View Archive

Theater, building get look

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 22, 2006 1:58 PM

David Weil's $5 million plan for reconstruction of the Paramount Theater has drawn rave reviews from many Goldsboro residents and deep concern from others.

Still, in the weeks after he presented schematics for the proposed 15,000-square-foot facility to City Council members at their Aug. 7 meeting, the city management team has been "hard at work," researching ways to fund both a new theater and a community building -- without raising taxes.

City Manager Joe Huffman presented a number of options to the council Monday for review, all of which would bring a new Paramount to Center Street and a community building downtown within the next few years.

"Our mission is to try and find a workable plan," Huffman said. "I've got some ideas for you."

Each "idea" was, in actuality, a breakdown showing the economic impact of different funding plans for the two projects. Included in each were answers to budget questions -- new revenue projections, debt services, potential funding sources, operating costs and expenses associated with construction of both facilities.

"Overall, the Paramount is doable financially," Huffman said.

But with the estimated price tag for a community building coming out "higher than the city had originally planned for," the consensus among city staff was to start that project a few years down the road, he added.

Ultimately, Huffman recommended that council members consider proceeding with Paramount reconstruction efforts during the 2007-08 fiscal year, which "would essentially mean we start now," he said. Construction on the community building would be put off until 2010.

But the chance still remains, he added, that the grants applied for by the city will pay off -- to the tune of up to $6.5 million for the projects.

"If we get some of the grants we applied for, it could be one of those situations where we can get started on both projects as soon as possible," Huffman said, adding if all the grants pay out, the projects could begin simultaneously.

Earlier this month, Mayor Al King said he hopes work on both of the projects will begin by next summer.

"If we're going to go, we're going to go at the same time," he said Aug. 11.

But a high estimate for the community building from T.A. Loving -- a price tag of more than $10 million -- makes constructing both facilities next year less likely, Huffman said.

In the long run, however, the projects are doable, he added. And each becomes more financially practical as new funding sources -- such as fundraising or a potential annual contribution from the Wayne County Board of Commissioners -- are realized.

"There is an expectation that county residents will want to use these facilities," Huffman said, adding he mentioned the possibility of a Wayne contribution to County Manager Lee Smith.

"He was noncommittal," he said.

The Paramount Theater, built by the Weil family in 1882, was an armory building, synagogue, movie house and theater before it burned Feb. 19, 2005. Within a week of the fire, City Council members vowed to "fast track" the project, but limited funds and a high estimated price tag slowed progress on reconstruction efforts.

In May, Paramount Reconstruction Committee Chairman Chuck Allen said the project was no longer a high priority, even though the project was listed No. 4 on the priorities list drafted by council members at their annual retreat in New Bern a few months earlier.

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

King said Allen's statements were "dead wrong," and that he was "proved right" as hundreds of e-mails and calls came in from concerned residents after news of Allen "shelving the project" broke.

Weil said he is "cautiously optimistic" that both the community and council will embrace the project.

Council members did not take action on Huffman's recommendation Monday, and no timetable has been set for a decision to be made.