Sunday, October 2, 2022

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City council OKs new layout for Paramount Theater expansion

Burlington’s city council has decided to raise the proverbial curtain on an expansion of the Paramount Theater that could cost as much as $7 million for the city to design and construct.

This proposed expansion, which the council agreed to proceed with this week, would occupy the space left vacant by the demolition of the former Moorefield Florist building, which formerly stood next to the city-owned theater. The city originally purchased the old flower shop as a potential adjunct to the theater’s premises several years ago. Yet, earlier this year, the city council chose to demolish, rather than preserve, the existing building and directed a hired consultant to rough out a new, more ambitious vision for the Paramount’s expansion.

In response to the council’s request, Mon Peng Yueh with Clearscapes Architects presented a truly monumental vision for the proposed expansion during a city council work session on Monday. (This presentation took place before a bare quorum of the city council, which consisted of mayor Jim Butler, mayor pro tem Harold Owen, and councilman Bob Ward. Council members Kathy Hykes and Ronnie Wall were absent.)

Under Yueh’s proposal, the city would also demolish a one-story, city-owned building that had previously separated Moorfield Florist from the Paramount proper. In its place, a new, two story building would rise up with some 9,460 square feet on two levels – along with a third story roof deck that would provide another 2,930 square feet for open-air entertainment.

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This photo from 2017 shows the Moorefield’s Florist building, when it still operated as a flower shop on East Front Street, before the city bought the building with an eye toward an expansion of the adjacent Paramount Theater; it has subsequently been demolished.
This architectural rendering shows how the corner of West Front and South Spring streets might look after the construction of the expanded Paramount Theater, complete with outdoor dining and entertainment on the third floor (close-up below).

According to city staff members, this additional space could double the theater’s entertainment offerings from 100 to 200 nights a year and increase the Paramount’s “unique visits” from 20,000 to between 39,000 and 50,000 per annum. But this prospective spike in attendance won’t come cheap, according to the city’s administrators.

Nolan Kirkman, Burlington’s assistant city manager, projected that this three-level expansion would cost the city some $600,000 to design and $445,000 to build – making for a total project cost of $6,691,250 once contingencies and the general contractor’s own costs are factored into the equation.

Meanwhile, Kirkman told the council that improvements to the existing theater would tack on another $298,750 and bring the final price tag to $6,990,000.

Kirkman predicted that this project would take 26 months to complete – including 10 months for the design phase alone.
The proposed expansion is also expected to raise the operational costs of the Paramount Theater.

According to Erin Nettles, Burlington’s downtown manager, the facility’s annual expenses could jump from $248,000 to $531,000 once the expansion is complete – making for an overall increase of $283,000 a year. She nevertheless anticipated an extra $83,000 in revenue from ticket, concessions, and advertising, which presently brings in $142,000 a year from activities related to the city-owned theater. As a result, Nettles calculates a net increase of $200,000 in the facility’s cost.

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Nettles went on to assure the council that the expansion would have an additional economic impact far beyond the pages of the city’s annual budget.

“You’re not going to see this money come back through direct channels,” she told the council. “Where you’re going to see it is in the indirect economic impact downtown and possibly through the rest of the county.”

Nettles’ auspicious predictions seemed to pique the interest of Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler who saw limitless promise in the theater’s potential expansion.

“We don’t know what it could do once it becomes successful and has the public spotlight put on it,” he told the rest of the council.

Butler proceeded to encourage the council to press ahead with this endeavor.

“Were talking about truly a catalyst project,” he added. “It’s transformational…To me this is a game changer for those who have businesses downtown as well as those who have real estate that they wish someone would occupy.”

“I think this is obviously the way to make it work,” agreed mayor pro tem Harold Owen, “and also to change the uses to diversify that.”

“I’m really impressed,” councilman Bob Ward concurred. “I’d like to move forward as soon as possible.”

Ward, Butler, and Owen went on to direct staff to add a budget amendment $600,000 to the council’s agenda on Tuesday to cover the anticipated cost for the expansion’s design.

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