Council questions theater-purchase deal



The former Paramount Theatre



Despite pleas from the finance director, city council members don’t see why the city should buy the dilapidated former Paramount Theatre.

Also, some members of council asked Finance Director David Bozanich why they weren’t told until Monday about a side-deal with the building’s owner.

“Council is being asked to vote blindly; we knew nothing about this,” said Councilman DeMaine Kitchen, D-2nd, at Monday’s council finance committee meeting.

Bozanich recommends city council approve purchasing the long-vacant theater on the northeast corner of West Federal and North Hazel streets for $80,000.

Louis Frangos of Cleveland bought the 92-year-old building for $79,900 in April 2006 and has said he spent about $80,000 on the building.

As part of the Paramount deal, Frangos would give the city a small amount of property he owns on the southwest corner of a parking lot on North Hazel and Commerce streets at no cost, Bozanich said.

That corner is needed as part of the city’s Hazel Street extension project, said Bozanich, who added he found out about the need for that land about three weeks ago.

Bozanich apologized for not letting council members know about the side-deal until Monday. Although an appraisal of that corner isn’t done, Bozanich estimated the value of that land at $25,000 to $30,000.

Council refused to vote at its June 16 meeting in favor of buying the building. Nothing discussed at Monday’s meeting changed their minds.

If the city purchased the building, it would seek money from a state grant program to demolish it and keep the structure’s facade and metal-frame marquee, Bozanich said.

Bozanich estimated the cost Monday of removing asbestos and demolishing the building at $400,000 to $500,000. A month earlier, he had estimated that expense at $750,000.

Council members asked about the $80,000 Frangos said he spent on the Paramount after buying the building.

“There’s safety issues there for years and years and years,” said Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th. “I don’t see where they put the money.”

In response, Bozanich said the money went into design plans to determine the viability of restoring the theater. The estimated cost of restoration is at least $10 million, he said.

“So no money went into the building in terms of taking care of the dangers and safety issues,” Kitchen said.

Council members complained that the city was bailing out Frangos and that buying the old theater would leave the city with a large liability.

The city “can clean it up, or we can tell the landlord to seal it off [and] board it up,” Bozanich said.

But the building is in the heart of downtown, and the city is the only entity that can actually do something with the property, he said.

That area would be used for free parking for people paying their water and wastewater bills at the nearby city hall.

Council members want Frangos to donate the small land he owns for the Hazel Street extension and to hold on to the theater building till the city can find grant money to take it down.

Frangos couldn’t be reached Monday by The Vindicator to comment.

If he were Frangos, Bozanich said, he wouldn’t give the land to the city at no cost.

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