By Denise Dick
With costs to save the front portion prohibitive, the city has taken steps to demolish the entire Paramount Theatre.
“We made the decision a couple of weeks ago to prepare specifications to proceed with full demolition,” said Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works.
The city had been exploring the possibility of taking down the 94-year-old downtown building but saving the facade.
But a report from Atlantic Engineering Services, a consulting structural engineering firm with an office in Pittsburgh, found that it would cost between $1.3 million and $1.6 million just to secure the facade during demolition of the remainder of the building.
That doesn’t include any cost to make the front portion of the building habitable, Shasho said.
“The city can’t afford to do that,” said Mayor Charles Sammarone. “We have problems in our neighborhoods with demolition. There’s no way we could take that money to demolish it.”
A preliminary inspection earlier this year determined the front of the building, on the corner of West Federal and Hazel streets, couldn’t be saved, but recommended a more-detailed study. It said that the front of the dilapidated building isn’t strong enough to stand on its own once the rest of the structure is demolished.
Rodney Lamberson, executive vice president and a principal with Strollo Architects, the Youngstown company developing a plan for the building demolition, said measures to save the facade called for exterior supports around the building while demolition occurred.
City officials have said the building, at the corner of West Federal and Hazel streets, is unsafe and filled with asbestos.
The city received an $803,490 grant from the state in July 2011 for the demolition, with the expectation that the facade would remain, and will pay about $269,553 for the project. After demolition, the site would be a parking lot for those paying water and waste- water bills at city hall.
Sammarone said the price tag is so high largely due to the asbestos.
“Companies won’t even go inside the place,” he said. “That’s how bad it is.”
Anita Lin, chairwoman of the Paramount Project, the group that wanted to save the building facade and create an amphi- theater, said members were unable to raise the $1.4 million the city said it would need to preserve the front of the structure. Their deadline was Jan. 2, she said.
While she said the group would have liked a longer time line, she appreciates the mayor’s support of the project.
“It is a shame because the cityscape is going to be so changed,” Lin said.
With the restaurants and stores opening, that block is coming alive, she said.
The project has generated a lot of interest and support through social media and Lin believes there may be hope in the future for some scaled-back version of the group’s plan.
The mayor said that’s a possibility as well.
“In the future, if there’s money generated, we can build a replica of what they were talking about saving,” Sammarone said.
The building opened in 1918 as the Liberty Theatre for vaudeville acts and silent movies with a 1,700-seat auditorium featuring an aquarium and fountain in the lobby. It was sold in 1929 to Paramount Pictures and renamed the Paramount Theatre. It closed in 1976.