Paramount Bidders Pitch Plans to Peekskill Council

The three candidates vying to lease the Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill presented their proposals to the Common Council during a workshop Wednesday.

There were two recurring themes in the messages delivered by the three applicants bidding to take over management duties for the Paramount Center for the Arts Wednesday night.

The first one is that whoever takes over will not see an immediate profit in the first year. Second, it may take up to two years for the theater to begin producing the level program that it did in past years.

“We’ve got a big road ahead of us and a big mountain to climb, with what has happened before this,” Kurt Heitmann, of Red House Entertainment, said during Wednesday night’s Common Council work session. “This isn’t going to be easy. Anyone who tells you that? They’re lying.  It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not daunting to us.”

Red House Entertainment, along with the Tarrytown Music Hall and the Paramount Phoenix group, is bidding to lease and manage the Paramount. The theater, which is owned by the City of Peekskill, has been closed since September, when the last management team failed to raise the funds necessary to stay open.

All three groups gave a run-through of their plans for the theater during the work session, which was open to the public. About two-dozen crammed into the Paul Schwerman Conference Room in city hall to hear the proposals.

Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster said the Common Council is still in the process of considering each proposal. A special committee that was set up by the city to review the proposals had already given their suggestions to the Common Council prior to the work session.

“We are going to take the results of these interviews, the results of the recommendations from the review committee, any other comments we get from folks over the next week into consideration,” Foster said. “We’ll talk about it at our next work session, which will be Tuesday, the 19th, since we’re not having a meeting on President’s Day. Then we will take it from there, but we’re trying to do a very deliberate process.”

Here’s a rundown of the proposals.

Paramount Phoenix Group  
The Paramount Phoenix Group was represented by Arnie Paglia, owner of Division Street Grill in Peekskill; Antonio Ciacca, a jazz recording artist and professor at the Juliard School who once served as the director of Jazz at Lincoln Center; Dave Rocco, who played a role in getting Walkway Over the Hudson project completed; Mary Beth Becker and Wilfredo Morel, a local artist and gallery owner.

“We put this group together because we understand the priority of getting the Paramount up and running and the vested interest we all have in its functioning —both as it used to in terms of the type of programming that it did, and additional programming to have that facility be used as many days out of the week as possible,” Paglia said.

Paglia said he see the Paramount as key economic engine in rebuilding retail and bringing business to Peekskill downtown area.

Ciacca, who would act as programming director, said his group’s mission statement will be to make the Paramount the cultural engine of the city.

“This will be achieved by bringing in international diverse, performing artists and by giving platform to local artists and local community to express whatever their field of action is,” Ciacca said. “I’ve seen many theater where the artists come in, they perform, someone pays the ticket and they just go. There’s no cultural impact. Nothing happens.”

Ciacca said who performs must leave some sort of impact on the city, whether it’s visiting a local nursing home or inviting students to rehearsals.

Ciacca also said that he didn’t simply want to present shows, but he wanted to produce and conceive shows that originate from the Paramount. He also wanted to make the Paramount a desirable place for rentals.

He also wanted to make sure that shows and educational programs at the theater are pertinent to the life of the city. The Paramount Phoenix Group would like to be up and running by April 30, to have a kick-off event on  International Jazz Day.

Paglia said the theater would run movies and other safe programming after the kickoff until its financing and other legal issues involving the prior management group are worked out. He also plans to partner with local restaurants to try and leverage cross marketing opportunities.

Here are some other details from the proposal:

  • Annual rent in the amount of $50,000, but the city would cover $75,000 in utilities for the first year.
  • The group has $150,000 in cash ready and thinks it can leverage another $50,000 from sponsorships if the city can gives the group the go ahead.
  • The group is also counting on a $50,000 performance based grant from the City of Peekskill and $10,000 grant from the Town of Cortlandt.
  • $112,000 in outstanding ticket liability would be matched dollar for dollar
  • The group plans to create a nonprofit organization that would sign the lease with the city
  • Is offering to pay off the rest of a $100,000 loan from Key Bank that was used to purchase equipment for the theater.

Tarrytown Music Hall
Bjorn Olsson, executive director of the Tarrytown Music Hall, said that it was important for the Music Hall and the Paramount to join forces given the similarities both theaters have have.

The Music Hall is currently operated as 501c3 nonprofit.

Olsson  said the Music Hall’s budget has grown from about $130,000 in 2003 to about $3 million now. He also said attendance has grown from 15,000 annually to about 90,000 during that same time period.

“We estimate that the Music Hall generates about $1million every year for Tarrytown and nearby, just in dining money,” Olsson. “Just in money spent at local restaurants. The overall economic impact is even bigger that.”

Olsson, who is currently a board member on the League of American Historic Theatres, said his group is interested in the Paramount because of its history. The Music Hall is also expanding at a rapid rate and could use a second stage.

“We actually put out feelers to the Paramount a few years back, but the timing just wasn’t right,” Olsson.

Olsson said that it also makes sense for the two theaters to collaborate due to the increase in competition that’s coming places such as the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester and the Levity Live Comedy Club in Nyack  also make

“I feel the two theaters are so similar that we actually are a lot better off working on the same team than trying to compete against each other,” Olsson said.

Olsson said that the Music Hall would operate the Paramount through it’s existing organization at first.

“I think it’s important that both of these theater, although they are regional in nature—the roots that we have are very local and people are very attached to their theater,” Olsson said. “I think its incredibly important to retain that and not make it some sort of satellite.”

Olsson said the Paramount would not be used simply as an overflow stage for the Music Hall.

“If a restaurant owner has a restaurant and he opens a second restaurant, he’s not going to wait to send people to that second restaurant until he has his first restaurant full,” Olsson said. “You’re going to want to fill out both restaurants.”

Here are some more details from the Music Hall’s proposal:

  • Olsson said his group would prefer to keep the one dollar a year rent agreement that the previous management team had.  He said his group is willing to discuss this issue with the city during next few years. “Hopefully we’re wildly successful and everyone is happy,” Olsson said.
  • The group would pay its own utilities, but the group could possibly ask for a deferral utility payments in the beginning.
  • There wouldn’t be a bigger kick-off event until the fall of this year.
  • Programming will be considerably scaled at the Paramount compared the Music Hall in the early going.
  • The Tarrytown Music Hall could create a separate, subsidiary board for the Paramount depending on how things go. For now, the Music Hall board will invite members from the community to its current board, but still retain control.
  • The projected income for the Paramount in 2013 would be about $117,000 and $175,000 in 2014.
  • The group would credit outstanding tickets that were purchased last year with credits to future shows.

Red House Entertainment
Kurt Heitmann, CEO of Red House Entertainment, presented his group’s proposal along with partners Abigail Adams, who would serve as arts and non-profit manager and currently run the Hudson Valley Shakespear Festival ; Jonathan Close, who would be in charge of brand extension and marketing; and Ray Wilson, who would handle artist development and management, concert production and talent booking.

Heitmann, who has about 30 years of experience in audio/visual production, said he wanted to get the Paramount running 5 to 6 days a week. That programming could include films, concerts or festivals.

He said the most important thing is providing a consistent level of entertainment that draws people to the city. He also said it’s important for the Paramount to develop its brand.

“Don’t take this as a slight on the other group and how it’s been run, but I never knew what was going on,” Heitmann said.  “I’ve been around a lot. I live here and I drive on 9 all the time and the only time I knew something was going on at the Paramount was when I saw a banner. That’s it. That not branding and promotion. That’s putting a banner out and saying let’s go, we have show on —we’re going to hit it hard with branding and promotion and make it, again, the place that you want to come to.”

Heitmann said he would like to anchor live music events on Friday and Saturdays and use the downtown area to help draw people from all over the Hudson Valley. He also wants to do something called “Playing at the Paramount” every month that would help bring the theater to the national forefront.

Heitmann, who has won four Emmys for his work at ESPN, covering the National Hockey League and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, is also senior vice president of sales and marketing at  CP Communications. He said he would use his experience, access to equipment and experienced personnel to enhance the theater.

The group also hopes to hold a number a festivals—from blues to Jazz—with the purpose of involving local businesses and attracting people to see live shows and events at the theater.

In addition to shows, the group also plans to generate revenue by hosting high definition simulcasts from events around the world, high definition movie nights, children’s programming and summer camps.

Other details from the proposal:

  • Heitmann said Red House would need the city to cover the first six months of rent to get the group off its feet.
  • He expects that the group will lose money after the first year.
  • A percentage of box office revenue would be paid to the city in lieu of a traditional rent for the first 2.5 years. The group would then come back to the city and determine if that arrangement is preferable or if a more traditional rent arrangement is better.
  • Heitmann said his group plans to approach Key Bank and make them an offer for the $100,000 technical equipment that exists in the theater. 

Bjorn Olsson February 15, 2013 at 08:37 PM
Sayitsnotsojack (Odd name!), maybe you should have put in a bid yourself?
john basic February 16, 2013 at 12:36 AM
After the previous management failed at the Paramont, I say go for the safe and borning (for now) The Tarrytown Group. Lets get the Paramont ope and run by people that already know how to run this type of venue.
joshua tanner February 16, 2013 at 02:15 AM
One thing that worked well at the Paramount and made money was the films when RAF films (and not the Paramount) was working out of the Paramount. There were lots of sellouts and the crowd was comprised of the best of Westchester. Lots of people that would not come to Peekskill came for the films. They weren't large feature "mall" type films because those films come with contracts that demand a film be shown every day. The smaller films that usually on show in NYC did great. The classics also did well as an educational/preservation component and Paramount had the East Coast premiere of restored version of Ben Hur. Screenwriter Howard Koch came to talk about writing Casablanca when it showed. Richard Harris who restored Spartacus and My Fair Lady was a regular and actually helped Paramount get it projectors (that Martin Scorsese wanted) from a 5000 seat theater in Nebraska. Paramount got a vault copy of Hunchback of Notre Dame that was only screened a dozen times in its lifetime. Leni Lynn a local from MGM's Judy Garland era came and spoke at one of her films made with Mickey Rooney. Stanley Tucci also came to a premiere of his movie "The Witness". RAF ran a very good program. The Paramount could have been doing what the Jacob Burns Center does. They missed the boat on that one. At its heart the Paramount is still what it is and that's a movie theater
sayitsnotsojack February 16, 2013 at 02:40 AM
Mr. Olsson the measure of you being wildly successful will be if you do not put your hand in Peekskill taxpayers pockets for you to play in the sand box. Peekskill gives way too much to everyone but the people like me who are made to pay the bills.
Bjorn Olsson February 16, 2013 at 04:26 AM
Jack, I have to disagree with your assessment. Success is measured by more people visiting local restaurants, more people discovering that Peekskill is way better than it's reputation because they came for a Paramount show and by sales tax flowing into City Hall. This can obviously be achieved by a for profit paying rent as well as a non profit not paying rent, but as you could see at the meeting there has not yet been a rush by established for profits to operate The Paramount. As far as the Music Hall offer goes, we simply made an assessment as to what we think is possible and feasible and that's the bid we presented at the meeting. From there it is up to your elected officials to try to gauge which proposal will benefit the city the most in the long run. We are not in this race to try to siphon off your tax dollars, in fact, we'll be spending a good chunk of our very own hard earned money if we are selected. We think we can do a good job at making your theater spring back to life, and this should ultimately benefit you and other Peekskill residents.


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