Paramount Theatre’s travails reflect a lackadaisical attitude

A story in the Vindicator friday obviously was the catalyst for the change in attitude. In the story on page 3, Reporter David Skolnick quoted Youngstown government officials as saying the city intended to terminate the contract with Baumann Enterprises for the demolition of the Paramount Theatre downtown because the company had intentionally breached the agreement.

The demolition was to have been completed by Sept. 21 and the site of the iconic structure — in downtown Youngstown’s heyday — turned into an asphalt parking lot.

But the deadline came and went — as did the new completion date of Nov. 15 sought by Baumann and agreed to by Charles Shasho, deputy director of city’s public works department.

Even then, Shasho did not seem overly concerned. He told The Vindicator the work would be completed by the end of this month or early December.

But last week, Law Director Anthony Farris sent a letter to William Baumann, president of the company, with the threat of contract termination.

The story published Friday carried this headline: “Youngstown intends to terminate Paramount demolition contract”.

On Saturday, a follow-up story by Skolnick made the following announcement: “Paramount demo to be done by next week”.

It quoted Baumann as saying all the work would be completed by today, or Friday — weather permitting.

Baumann had contacted the reporter with that assurance. He also contended that his company had planned to get the job done before the newspaper’s revelations of the delays.

But Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone has a different take on the matter.

First, Sammarone says, Shasho was being too kind when he allowed Baumann Enterprises to slide on the original deadline and then on the Nov. 15 extension.

Second, the mayor credits The Vindicator with getting the project back on track. He pointed out that on Friday there was a full crew working on the site.

While the newspaper is always pleased to help government move projects along, the following questions deserve to be answered by the administration: Why was the original deadline not met? Given that the contract contained a provision requiring the company to pay a financial penalty for each day past the completion date, why wasn’t Baumann notified that it was in the penalty phase?

Mayor Sammarone is absolutely right when he says government cannot allow contracts to be violated without consequences.

Demolition projects

Given all the demolition work that’s being done in the city, especially in neighborhoods plagued by dilapidated houses, City Hall cannot afford to be lackadaisical about completion dates.

It does not benefit the taxpayers when city officials are “too nice,” in the words of the mayor.

All that said, it is appropriate to mourn the passing of an era. 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.

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