By Polly Mikula
Eric Mallette, director of the Paramount Theater, made a formal request to the Rutland Board of Aldermen to “partner” with the Paramount with a financial investment of $450,000 over the next four years, according to the minutes of the Nov. 1 aldermanic meeting.
The plan is a multi-million dollar undertaking, which would convert the adjoining Richardson Building into a conference center that could host up to 250 people.
“The venue to be created on the top floor of the Richardson Building — with its unparalleled 360-degree views of Rutland City — will become a signature downtown destination drawing an audience from far beyond Rutland County borders,” according to the information packets for the Nov. 1 meeting. “A venue that offers sizeable conference space with breakout rooms has been identified as a desirable addition to the downtown district.”
Events that are too big for other spaces downtown but not big enough for the main 850-seat theatre could include: industry/social/networking conferences, weddings, receptions, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, comedy shows, performances.
The project also would include concessions, restrooms, a commercial kitchen, and flexible walls to create various sized suites for break-out sessions or private pre-show gatherings.
Mark Foley Jr. and Paul Gallo from the Paramount board joined Mallette at the aldermen’s meeting, supporting his vision of partnering with the city and to keep the Paramount a focal destination in the heart of downtown Rutland and expand its offerings.
Last month the theatre was awarded $325,000 in downtown tax credits for this project, which was partially outlined then. But the Nov. 1 presentation to the aldermen was the first time more details were publicly available.
Once built out, the conference center is estimated to increase the Paramount’s attendance by 25% in the first five years, bringing an additional 15,000 to 20,000 visitors to downtown. This, in turn, would have a projected economic impact on the region of $500,000 a year.
“What we’re talking about is a project that, when completed, will increase the economic impact on our community by a half a million dollars a year. Half a million dollars!” Mallette emphasized to the board, Nov. 1. “Finding a project with this sort of an impact within a 50-mile radius I think would be challenging and we have it right here one block over at 30 Center Street.”
Prior to the Nov. 1 Board of Aldermen meeting, Mallette had given board members a tour of the Richardson Building to show them the potential he envisioned for the space.
“The project that we walked you through over at 30 Center Street is transformative. It is what our community needs. It is economic development at its very definition,” Mallette said.
“As you picture Center Street, the Paramount Theater and the Richmond Building takes up a third of that block. And this project is about making that asset all that it can possibly be…”
Alderman Mike Doenges added his support for the project saying: “If you think about what the Paramount means to our community … it’s the center of almost everything that happens, right? Whether it’s the Family Feud, or the blood drives or all these different things that happen at Paramount. All these different things draw people to our area and they create this community in and of itself… I think it’s one of our biggest assets. It ties into everything that we do… it is a draw,” he said. “It is the center of our arts and culture all year. I absolutely support this proposal.”
Mayor Allaire agreed: “That property is the centerpiece of what I believe is our growth for any vision that we have for downtown.”
When specifying the theatre’s request for financial support, Mallette explained: “We’re looking for an investment from the city and we use the word investment because that’s what it is. This is an opportunity to make the absolute best use of an asset that is here for the community. The Paramount is a public trust. It is not owned by any one individual it is owned by the community. And it’s time that we continue that great tradition … It is about the future. It’s about growing annual attendance from 65,000 to 85,000. It’s about letting our local nonprofits grow from generating $60,000 a year (that’s $600,000 in the last decade) to earning $100,000 a year because we’re going to be developing a new fourth floor venue that even more can make use of. It’s about the future.
“Again, we’re seeking that investment from the city in the Paramount, but ultimately it’s an investment in the city. We are the envy of so many other populations when you think about what our community of less than 20,000 people has available to it. Let’s make that jewel shine even brighter,” Mallette concluded.
Most board members voiced enthusiastic support of the Paramount’s plan and the city’s financial support of it.
Alderman Bill Gillam, Jr. said: “I think it’s time for us to be involved and put some skin in the game and make sure this thing happens. They already have a proven track record. I think they know what they’re doing. I think it’s very important that they go the next step. Plus the marketplace has changed very drastically in Vermont and Rutland City on the hospitality side of things, so I think this is a very opportune time for them to bring this profitable project to the table.”
The board did debate the funding source, but ultimately approved $150,000 from the Zamias Fund (closing out an unrestricted fund that had helped enhance the downtown for over a decade). The board sent the theatre’s request for the remaining $300,000 to the finance committee. Mayor David Allaire suggested the city fulfill the latter amount using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money.
“I’ve floated the idea of ARPA funding because there is a part in there that talks about nonprofits and the loss of revenue,” said Allaire.
Additionally, the Paramount has committed $600,000 to the project and has already raised $1,425,000 from “community partners,” according to the informational material available prior to the Nov. 1 meeting.
The Paramount is now continuing to fundraise while planning for construction to be phased through 2022 to 2024 in an attempt to minimize any disruptions to the theater’s performance schedule.