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. 

theobserver February 14, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Arnie Paglia for Mayor!
Patty Villanova February 14, 2013 at 12:58 PM
To one degree or another, it seems the three finalists are looking for financial support from the taxpayers to one degree or another. Tarrytown Music Hall is actually an established, successful music venue that has figured out how to make it work in this part of Westchester. The other two applicants are offering something similar to what was there already. I am increasingly leary of non-profits that are funded by the public (taxpayers) as they are less subject to scrutiny via the Open Meetings Law and FOIL. Ultimately, the decision as to who will take over the Paramount is something that affects all of us in the surrounding communities, yet the public really has no say so in all this except through some elected and appointed officials who have their own criteria for success that is not based in reality.
Margaret Steele February 14, 2013 at 01:32 PM
I was there (second row - purple scarf). This article is a pretty good summary, but I want to add a few things that aren't here - plus my own questions. (My comment is too long to fit, so I have to divide it into two...) Overall immediate impression: Two well-intentioned but unproven candidates with a lot of big ideas and one (only one...) candidate with a successful, ongoing track record of running a theater - one very similar to the Paramount. While all mentioned working with the community, none mentioned reaching out to existing arts organizations in Peekskill. Hopefully this was just an oversight. Paramount Phoenix Group - Questions: With his other obligations and other possible opportunities, what would be the incentive of Antonio Ciacca (Jazz at Lincoln Center & The Juilliard School) to focus on and stay with the Paramount long-term? I would love to see jazz, classical concerts and ballet at the Paramount, as well as produced shows. This kind of programming costs a lot of money. This whole operation/vision must be built from the ground up. It's a brand new group with no track record. Locally based and passionate about Peekskill, yes. But I'm not convinced they're up to the task.
Margaret Steele February 14, 2013 at 01:35 PM
Tarrytown Music Hall Not mentioned in the above-article - this candidate's statement that they wanted to give an honest proposal with no sugar-coating. Their time frame for getting things going was longer and seemed totally realistic. Also, they were the only candidate that emphasized the challenge of regaining the trust of former Paramount patrons who found themselves holding on to unrefunded tickets for cancelled shows, as well as regaining the trust of booking agents and acts. They pointed out that the Paramount at the moment has a bad industry reputation to overcome. (I believe they said they'd accept an even ticket exchange for shows at either the Paramount or Tarrytown Music Hall.) They were the only ones who talked about old theaters - their love of them and their affiliation with other organizations that operate old theaters. They were specific, with nuts & bolts solid plans and numbers. Red House Entertainment: All over the place - a zillion ideas thrown at the wall without a lot of specifics. And what was that movie at the beginning, showing lots of equipment and outdoor events? What on earth did that have to do with running the Paramount? While the partners have a lot of experience in the entertainment field, their patchwork quilt of skills would also be a grand, unproven experiment, with the Paramount as the guinea pig. I didn't appreciate the statement that the Paramount was "just a venue." My Scorecard: One viable, One a gamble and One way too vague.
Wendy Kelly February 14, 2013 at 01:56 PM
Not trying to stir the pot but I have a serious question. What role did Mr. Rocco assume with WWOH? I looked at the numbers ( only that have been posted) and I say Tarrytown Music Hall should be the only candidate. We want this venture to be successful not months down the road hear sorry we did our best and can't continue at the Paramount for lack of funds.
Mary Crescenzo February 14, 2013 at 01:58 PM
There should be a stipulation for whichever organization is chosen: They must provide a small black box theatre space somewhere within the building (even on stage with moveable seating with the curtain closed, if need be, with suitable light and sound) for local artists to use/rent at a reasonable rate for small theatre, music and dance events. There should also remain the art gallery area for local artists to use in the same name. This would provide a showcase for the artists who carry the profile of this city as art center. Since we don't have a centralized multidisciplinary art center, this could be the space that contains this type of thing. A place where people can come to learn about all of the arts in town, not just the big names that are brought in. If we do this, we will see who really cares about the community they are entering as well as their own profits.
Wendy Kelly February 14, 2013 at 02:27 PM
Like your ideas Mary Crescenzo. Maximize usage at all times.
JM February 14, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Very interesting story and comments. Glad to finally see who all three groups are and what they stand for. Strictly from a money-making p.o.v. --after all that is the goal-- there are strong points and passion from all three... perhaps the best of each presentation could be blended into one. :) Yes, need well-thought out venue; yes, need to inform people of what is happening there regularly (I have to hunt banners down too), allow some room for experiments, engage local talent --writers, directors, actors-- coupled with the ability to open certain shows to the world of 7 billion viewers, online streamed for free. I gather (reading between the lines) that common council has made the decision they just haven't announced yet?
JM February 14, 2013 at 03:11 PM
postscript about the ''banners'' snark, I don't know if its just me, transplanted from Manhattan where I knew all events at any given time in my hood, but all of Westchester seems to operate in a black hole. I know more about what events are taking place in Putnam than I do in my own county until after the fact, so Peekskill isn't alone. There must be greater outreach no matter which group is chosen for the project.
paula February 14, 2013 at 03:36 PM
Wonderful ideas Mary Crescenzo!
RealTimeRufus February 14, 2013 at 04:01 PM
I'm supporting Bjorn Olsson. He was excellent in ABBA and will bring much-needed Swedish sensibility. I have to say, though, that Kurt Heitmann looked sharp with banana tie and stylin' goatee. He'd be a good public face for the Paramount. Arne Paglia looks like V.I. Lenin in that middle picture. Not sure that's the direction we want to go.
joshua tanner February 14, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Classical music etc. was the forte of the Paramount its first 10-12 years. Orchestras from Europe, Philharmonia Virtuosi, Taghkanic Chorale etc. - these were the staples at the Paramount. It was a dying audience overall. Too many shows in a season would only have 150 people attending. I liked the concerts and went but they weren't sustainable in any large way As an artist myself I've never considered the local arts scene very good, and cant see it doing much for the Paramount aside from artists buying tickets to shows like other people. The worst art shows I've ever seen were in Peekskill (Panas and Lakeland high school art shows were much better). There are some great artists in Peekskill but there are a lot of pretenders acting out. Not to be rude but that's the reality. Theater biz is Topsy turvy. Lots of venues go broke - and lots of artists cancel on theaters. I'm sure the right crew can repair any skepticism. I would add though that it was hard for Paramount to repay people when they were locked out of the building. There needs to be less erratic political leadership, Had the Paramount been run by a friend of the local pols and not a foe the demise would have been handled in a less hamfisted fashion.
Sol Miranda February 14, 2013 at 06:00 PM
Yes, Thank You, Mary! As you are one of the aprox. 50 EMBARK|Peekskill local performing/literary artist members, we could definitely use a more intimate space or removable seating for the stage at The Paramount asap. But let us not forget that EMBARK's journey (a journey that started 3 years ago with a Volunteered, Professional, Trained, Experienced and Passionate Steering Committee and now with a DIVERSE Board) is exactly that: to provide a HOME for our local performing and literary artists in a performing arts center complex that would have three legit theatrical spaces & gallery space (500 seat theater, 100 seat black box, a small lecture hall, rehearsal rooms & classrooms, scenic shop and costume shop). Our Beautiful Paramount was built as a 1930's MOVIE HOUSE (anyone, please feel free to talk to technical crew members that have worked there). It is an amazing Historic Landmark space that serves well events such as concerts, standup comedians and movies. But it does NOT have fly space, wing space, rehearsal space and proper dressing rooms. Has the public ever wondered why we don't see a National musical theater touring show in that space? Because sadly it doesn't fill their technical stage requirements -- A Fact. (See continuing post.)
Sol Miranda February 14, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Embark's VISION is possible and can coexist with The Paramount. We will welcome whoever takes charge of The Paramount. It is our hope that as they bring their nonprofit components of educational & community outreach, they talk to US first as we are already established and are working with/for the performers/writers and the community. We are taking the time to do it well to earn the TRUST of the tax payers. Today is a PERFECT EXAMPLE of our Community Outreach: PEEKSKILL RISES WITH ONE BILLION RISING at 4 pm in front of the Library. Our member teaching artist dancers went to the the Peekskill Middle School, Hillcrest and Oakside as well as the Youth Bureau and Salvation Army, the Victim's Assistance Office, and the Kiley Center to spread the word about this global event to end violence against girls and women, and to TEACH the DANCE. And also a perfect example of Artistic Collaboration: Tonight at 7 pm some of our members are performing, directing or reading at HVCCA’s WORDS THAT PAINT. More performances this Saturday & Sunday. Our current performing arts classes at EMBARK @ Energy Movement Center are the most affordable in the area: $10!!! As soon as grants start coming in, we will offer an Arts in Education Program, that is also bilingual, and offer scholarships. EMBARK wishes much clarity & discernment to the Committee during such challenging task deciding The Paramount’s future.
Fred February 14, 2013 at 10:42 PM
I watched the three groups on the city cable channel. Here's what I thought: First, I'm glad that we the public got to hear from all three of them. I didn't get the sense that the Phoenix group had a vision for the Paramount. Only jazz and classical music. What about rock and R&B? Their vision wasn't big enough and most people who I talked to kind of discounted them right away, and they wanted a lot of taxpayer funding, which I wasn't crazy about. Tarrytown had a good proposal and I agree that they're the safe bet. But, I didn't like that the Paramount would be their annex with hardly any employees for a while. Sounds like second best. And Peekskill deserves the best. We've earned it. And the theater is the highlight of downtown, so it should have the lights on, so to speak. They also needed taxpayer funding for a while with grants. Red House's presentation was bizzarre. I agree the video was pointless and they were all over the map. But as the conversation continued, they were more convincing and I like that they wouldn't need money after 6 months. I also liked how they will simulcast events from Lincoln Center and will continually have programming on Fridays and Saturdays and Blues music. Overall, Phoenix worries me, Tarrytown is safe but boring, and Red House is exciting but with some risk. I'd do Red House and if it doesn't work, go back and do a deal with Tarrytown. Good comments from everyone here today.
Bjorn Olsson February 15, 2013 at 02:56 PM
Hey, we'd be the rebound relationship?
sayitsnotsojack February 15, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Is there no group, connected with Peekskill that doe not have its' hand out? These saviors of Peekskill all want large amounts of taxpayer money. The answer should be no, not just no but hell no! I want rent for a dollar a year, free electric, tax breaks, and trust me I am very much non profit these days. I get nothing, and just pay and pay for others to have and have. If these people can not put forth a program that is self sustaining then they should not be allowed to continue. Next someone will want to build more subsidized housing which we all know Peekskill needs like an earthquake.
Wendy Kelly February 15, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Fred I agree and Patch commentors should give useful insight and stop attacking each other.We are very lucky to have Patch online and Rasheed is a great guy, he does his job very well.
Margaret Steele February 15, 2013 at 08:34 PM
No Bjorn! You'd be the fresh start we need! You have a lot of support in Peekskill's arts community.
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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