Local News

Paramount Theatre Stages Comeback

Posted February 14, 2008 7:20 p.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2008 10:42 p.m. EST

— A remarkable journey through flames, ashes and reconstruction will conclude when the curtains rise again at the Paramount Theatre in Goldsboro on Saturday.

An early morning fire tore through the theater on Feb. 19, 2005, destroying the 123-year-old building. In a flash, downtown Goldsboro lost a key piece of its history, economy and landscape.

"I watched people's faces the morning that the Paramount burned, and I saw the pain," Joe Huffman, Goldsboro's city manager, said.

Saturday's grand opening will be the culmination of a rebuilding project that encountered difficulty from the start.

Structural problems forced crews to tear down the whole building, including the facade that the city had hoped to save.

Then came financial difficulties. With estimates ranging as high as $10 million to $12 million, the price tag to rebuild the Paramount seemed too high for the city's budget.

However, businessman David Weil launched a community fund-raising effort, and a local company offered to build it for $5.5 million – half the original estimate. Plans for the new theater started to take shape in the fall of 2006.

"It's amazing for me to see how much the community has pulled together for this effort," Sherry Archibald, theater director, said.

On Saturday, the public will get its first look at the final touches on the new performing-arts center.

Decorated in Victorian style, it will feature a three-story tall lobby with a chandelier. Lighting, sound equipment, catwalks and ventilation systems were updated, and backstage areas for actors expanded. An elevator was added, and bathrooms made larger and more accessible.

"There's a lot of similarities, and they feel like we're right back where we were in the old Paramount," Archibald said.

City officials hope that raising the curtains will translate to rising economic prospects for downtown.

Before the fire, the theater was booked around 85 percent of the time. Without those shows and the thousands of visitors they drew, surrounding businesses lost thousands of dollars. A restaurant across the street from the Paramount eventually closed.

The city-owned performing-arts center had also been a linchpin for Mayor Al King's downtown revitalization plans. Just days before the fire, the city had agreed to spend $65,000 to repair the Paramount's exterior.

With the grand reopening of the Paramount only days away, though, a new restaurant has opened across from the theater. Next door, StageStruck, a local youth, performing-arts group, was building a 5,000-square-foot center. Affordable housing and a City Hall have also been built in downtown.

Bookings at the Paramount extend until February 2009.

"If you take all the emotion out it – and there is a great deal of emotion – this was a good business decision," Huffman said.

Theater administrators the Paramount will also be a sound emotional investment for theater-goers and the community.

Built in 1882 by the Weil family, the original building opened as an armory and served as a synagogue before becoming a movie-house in the 1920s. The city bought it in 1993 and renovated it as a performing-arts center.

"Starting a new set of memories and remembering and being nostalgic for the old building is going to make it even more significant," Archibald said.

The Paramount will open its doors with a dedication and open house Saturday. Tours will run 9 a.m.-12 p.m. At 1 p.m., the curtains will rise for a community concert.