By Katy Savage
RUTLAND — Sen. Patrick Leahy visited the Paramount Theater on Monday, April 18 as the theater embarks on a $5.5 million expansion project.
Leahy helped the Paramount secure $500,000 from the federal government through the Save America’s Treasures grant program, which was established in 1998 to support the nation’s premier cultural resources.
“I was very happy to direct the $500,000 here,” Leahy told a crowd at the Paramount on Monday, April 18. “What you’re doing here, you’re bringing people together. The sense of community is what’s most important. We’re a small state, we’re a special state. We have to make sure the next generation and the generation after and the generation after knows what’s special about Vermont and will stay here.”
The Paramount plans to transform into a “world class, multi-use venue,” over the next two years, Paramount board member Mark Foley, Jr. said on Monday. And it has already reached nearly 65% of its fundraising goal.
The 850-seat theater plans to expand to the “Richardson Building” next-door and by doing so, says it will bringing more revenue to the city. Over the next three years, board members expect to host 300 events, up from the usual 175 events, bringing 90,000 people through the doors and a $3 million economic impact to the city, up from $2 million in 2019.
“That’s an incredible impact from this little building,” Foley said.
Foley called Leahy’s support “instrumental.”
“We are setting the stage for the future, positioning the Paramount for success over the next 25 years,” Foley said.
Renovation of the Richardson Building will begin at the end of this year. The space was acquired by the Paramount 35 years ago with the intention of expanding. The 16,000-square foot building with four floors has been mostly vacant since then.
Paramount Theatre Executive Director Eric Mallette said previous funding has all been directed toward the theater, but plans have been in place for the Richardson Building since 2018.
The plans, designed by NBF Architects in Rutland, will double the concession area and include a restaurant, a bar and an additional theater space and meeting area. There will be new bathrooms, an elevator and stair tower, and a new mechanical systems as well.
Mallette said the expansion will make the theater more convenient.
“There are a lot of things we learned that we had to learn the hard way,” Mallette said. “ It was 20 years of ‘take good notes because sometime we’ll address this stuff.’”
Interior walls on the first floor will be torn down to make space for a larger concession stand. The women’s restroom will double in size and there will be a new men’s bathroom. The box office will be smaller, with three kiosks at the entrance.
“On the ground floor, the theme is just openness,” Mallette said.
The second floor will have a bar area and restrooms so people on the theater balcony don’t have to go downstairs to use the facilities.
The third floor will have three private suites, with 21st century video screens on the walls and plush furnishings, similar to box-style seating at venues in major cities.
“This would be our equivalent of a box,” Mallette said.
Mallette said the space could be used as a pre-show suite experience or breakout space for meetings.
The fourth floor will have a commercial kitchen and restaurant provided by Roots the Restaurant. There will also be an extra performance space with temporary seating to accommodate either 250 theater-style seats or 150 dining-style seats.
New, larger windows on the fourth floor will offer 360-degree views of the city and the Adirondack mountains.
“What we don’t want to do is pigeon hole ourselves into what this space could be,” Mallete said on a tour of the fourth floor, Monday.
“It can be whatever it wants to be,” he added, mentioning wedding receptions and business meetings as well as performances.
Mallette said the renovation will allow the theater to showcase two performances at the same time with proper soundproofing.
Construction will start at the end of 2022 and is expected to be completed in 2024. The project has support from the federal government as well as local government and organizations.
“The economic impact is immeasurable,” Rutland City Mayor David Allaire said on Monday.
Allaire remembered his first experience at the Paramount — seeing the movie “Bambi’’ in the 1960s.
“I clearly remember being down here and how much joy it brought me then,” Allaire said. “It really is a destination for the city of Rutland. It’s a destination for our future. City government recognizes that, I certainly recognize that.”
Leahy recalled having court cases in Rutland as a young lawyer. He and many other lawyers stayed at the former Bardwell House on Merchants Row and became close to each other.
“Often, the cases were settled there,” Leahy said.
After the presentation, Leahy walked the streets of Rutland with his security team and his digital camera in hand to take photos of the city’s murals. Leahy reflected on the Paramount’s importance to Rutland. “It’s got to be saved because it saves the downtown and the downtown is the beating heart of a city,” Leahy said.