By David Skolnick
The project to demolish the former Paramount Theatre, haul away the debris, backfill and grade the property, and then turn it into an asphalt parking lot was supposed to be finished by Sept. 21.
But nearly two months later, the downtown property isn’t graded, a chain-link fence still surrounds it and work on the parking lot hasn’t begun.
The project is expected to be done by the end of this month or early December, weather permitting, said Charles Shasho, deputy director of the city’s public- works department.
“There was a delay on the backfill because of weather [primarily rain], and there were utility conflicts that had to be resolved,” he said.
The correct locations of some steam and gas lines on the Paramount property on the corner of West Federal and Hazel streets were not given to the city, Shasho said.
“Because of that, we had to change the tie-in locations of storm sewers and make modifications to the plan,” he said.
The installation of storm-sewer lines should be done in a week, which would then allow the final grading of the property to be finished, Shasho said.
Hazel between West Federal and West Commerce streets, and the westbound portion of West Federal between Phelps and Hazel streets and the sidewalks in those areas, closed since July 2 because of this project, will reopen in a couple of weeks, Shasho said.
The contractor, Baumann Enterprises Inc. of Cleveland, also needs asphalt to turn the once-abandoned theater property into a parking lot.
That could be an issue as the temperature needs to be at least 40 degrees for asphalt to be poured, and it’s not in abundant supply this time of the year because of the weather.
“We’re pretty confident we’ll get asphalt,” Shasho said.
A seating area that will include pieces of Paramount’s terra-cotta exterior will have to wait until the spring because of the weather.
The Paramount Project, a group that wants to preserve the memory of the 95-year-old building, originally had wanted to turn the property into an amphitheater and outdoor gathering space and use the existing front portion of the structure for a small restaurant and office space.
But that plan was abandoned after two reports on the building determined it was structurally unsound, and any attempt to retain the front of the building would cost at least $1 million with no guarantee it would be stable.
The group also wanted to use the theater’s iron marquee in the design of the seating area, but it was in such poor condition that city officials said it couldn’t be salvaged.
Also, the city is negotiating a contract with the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp., a nonprofit downtown property agency run by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, to demolish the CIC-owned Kress Building on West Federal Street, near the Paramount site. Under consideration, after the demolition of Kress, is a swap of properties with the city getting the Kress site for parking and leasing the Paramount property to the CIC, also for parking.
The city received an $803,490 grant from the state in July 2011 to demolish the Paramount building. Baumann’s proposal was for $721,000.
Shasho said he didn’t know if the changes to the Paramount project would increase the cost of the work.
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 and has been owned by a variety of companies before the city purchased the dilapidated structure for $80,000 in November 2010.
Long-term neglect led to the building’s deterioration with holes in the roof causing major weather damage to its interior and the determination it couldn’t be saved.