By GUY D'ASTOLFO
VINDICATOR ENTERTAINMENT WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- When Paul Warshauer looks at the decaying eyesore that is the Paramount Theatre, he sees what it once was and what it could be again.
The chairman of Grande Venues, an Illinois company that restores and reopens old theaters, shared his vision Tuesday at a press conference at the Youngstown Club, downtown.
Warshauer, who has teamed with local theater professional David Vosburgh on the project, has hired Youngstown architect Ron Faniro. Preliminary architectural renderings of the plan were on display.
A new corporation created by Grande Venues and Louis Frangos, president of USA Parking of Cleveland, bought the building in April for 79,900.
Warshauer and Vosburgh both have a love of old theaters and feel it's important to save historic buildings. "When I see an empty theater, it's like seeing an abandoned puppy," said Vosburgh.
Warshauer said his current project is the restoration of the Uptown Theatre in Chicago.
To fund the Paramount project, Warshauer will form a for-profit limited liability corporation and solicit grants and donations. He also will seek tax credits from the federal government for the restoration of the building, which is registered as a historic site.
"I'm an entrepreneur, not a philanthropist," Warshauer said.
No date was given to begin the project, although work must be complete within 24 months of starting in order to comply with tax credit law.
Warshauer said it's too soon to say what the price tag will be, but estimated renovation costs at between 200 and 300 per square foot. The building has a total of 20,000 square feet, according to architect Faniro.
While the interior is a shambles and the roof is crumbling, Warshauer said heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems will be the biggest expenses, not paint and plaster.
Warshauer and Vosburgh will talk to area arts and entertainment groups to determine exactly what is needed, and to not duplicate existing venues. Vaudeville-style shows, specialty cinema, touring productions and plays and shows by local theater and dance troupes were mentioned as possible entertainment.
The theater would also be available for private receptions.
Preliminary plans call for removing the seats from the main floor to create a cabaret space with tables and chairs that could be used for a variety of functions. It would have a capacity of between 300 and 600.
The balcony would be turned into a 300-seat movie theater, or perhaps two 150-seat theaters. Preliminary plans for the basement -- which in years gone by was used as a speakeasy, according to Vosburgh -- call for a piano bar.
"The idea is to have dinner, drinks and entertainment all in one building," said Warshauer.
In the past year, an arena (Chevrolet Centre) and a small acoustic theater (Ford Family Recital Hall) opened downtown, joining Powers Auditorium, the nearby Stambaugh Auditorium and the theaters in Bliss Hall at Youngstown State University.
Can the city support another venue?
Warshauer says yes, citing "the McDonald's Effect," which can occur when similar businesses form a cluster.
"When a McDonald's restaurant opens on a street corner, it gets 100 percent of the business," he said. "But when you add a Burger King restaurant kitty-corner from the McDonald's, they both get 110 percent of the [prior] business."
The reason is raised expectations by consumers and increased competitiveness from the restaurants.
The same could hold true for theaters.
"We want to make downtown a destination again," said Vosburgh. "People can go to Route 224 for shopping, but downtown for fun."
When the Paramount Theatre opened in 1918, it was known as the Liberty Theatre. The 1,200-seat house was joined by other theaters during the downtown's heyday.
The Paramount was remodeled in 1950. When it closed in 1970, it was the last first-run theater in downtown Youngstown.