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Show Goes on in Fire-Ravaged Goldsboro Theater

The show will go on at a fire-ravaged Goldsboro landmark when the curtains rise again at the Paramount Theater in February.

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GOLDSBORO, N.C. — City officials, private individuals and local businesses have overcome numerous hurdles to rebuild the fire-ravaged Paramount Theatre, a crucial part of downtown Goldsboro's economy.

The theater's curtains will rise again in February 2008, almost three years to the day after a fire burned through the 125-year-old building. It opened as an armory, but became the Paramount in the 1920s and had been entertaining Wayne County ever since.

"Literally, people were just standing there crying, watching it go up in flames," Julie Thompson, director of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp., remembered.

Goldsboro Mayor Al King said the fire dealt a blow to his plans for revitalizing downtown. In 1993, the city acquired the Paramount, and civic groups converted it into a community performing-arts center. Just days before the fire, the city had agreed to spend $65,000 to repair its exterior.

"My plan was to make this a showplace for our city, and I was really sick when I got the call and was told it was burning. When I came to see it, I felt even worse," King told WRAL in February 2005.

Before the fire, the theater was booked around 85 percent of the time, according to the Paramount's Web site. Without those shows, the area lost thousands of visitors, and surrounding businesses lost thousands of dollars. A restaurant across the street from the Paramount saw a significant drop in customers and eventually closed.

But nearly three years later, King sees downtown Goldsboro's prospects rising – along with a renovated Paramount Theatre and a restaurant across from it.

"Everyday, I go by there, and it's changed. Right now, it's awesome," he said.

First, builders encountered structural problems. Crews hoped to save the theater's original facade, but for safety reasons, the whole building had to come down.

Then came financial difficulties. With estimates ranging up to $10 million to $12 million, the price tag to rebuild the Paramount seemed too high. However, with community fund-raising support and a local company offering to build at a lower cost, plans for the new theater started to take shape in the fall of 2006.

In February 2008, the curtains at the new Paramount will rise to a bigger stage in a 500-seat auditorium. Bookings already extend out more than a year.

The new theater – to be decorated in Victorian style – will feature a three-story tall lobby with a chandelier. An elevator will be added, and bathrooms made larger and more accessible. Lighting, sound equipment, catwalks and ventilation systems have been updated, and backstage areas for actors expanded.

The cost for the project will total between $5 million and $6 million, city officials estimated.

"And right now, it is the cornerstone of our revitalization," King said.

Nearby projects, including the construction of affordable housing and a new city hall, have been changing downtown Goldsboro. StageStruck, a local youth, performing-arts group, has begun building a 5,000-square-foot performance center next to the new Paramount.

"The activity that's taken place in its (the Paramount's) rebirth has been something that brings the community together," Thompson said.

"Absolutely, it's a dream come true," King said.

Construction on the new theater could wrap up as early as January. Goldsboro is planning a big, public opening-night celebration on Feb. 16.