In a unanimous vote at its Feb. 25 meeting, the Peekskill Common Council approved issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a new operator for the Paramount Theatre, a former movie house which went on to become a performing arts and concert venue and has played a significant role in attracting new activity to Peekskill’s downtown.
In 2013, the for-profit entity Red House Entertainment was brought in to reopen the theater as a performance venue as a successor to the nonprofit Peekskill Area Arts Council Inc., which had operated the theater since 1977. That was the year the city took ownership of the building in a tax default proceeding.
Kurt Heitman, CEO of Red House, told the Business Journal that the RFP is not “a product of conflict or political backstabbing” and that he had been “working with the city for several months to find a way for a smooth transition in operating entities.” Heitman explained that his company CP Communications — which provides equipment and technical services for broadcasters, producers of major sports and awards events, and others in the entertainment industry — is increasing its presence in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he is now spending a considerable amount of time.
Heitman said that concerts and other programs already booked for 2019 will go on as planned, and that the nonprofit Paramount Hudson Valley Arts will continue to promote community use of the theater.
“The RFP is designed to attract a promoter who has the capability to bring in well-known acts on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s time for a big-time player to come in, such as a promoter who has routing capability.”
The latter refers to the ability to book an entertainer on a travel route encompassing different cities using a schedule that minimizes travel time and distance. Heitman dropped the name of major concert promoter Live Nation as an example of the type of organization they’d like to attract.
The Paramount, located at 1008 Brown St., started out as a 1,500-seat movie palace designed by world-famous theater-builders George and Charles Rapp for Publix Pictures, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures. It opened on June 27, 1930. Paramount sold the building in 1973 after it ceased being a viable movie theater and, in 1997, the City of Peekskill took the building in a tax default case.
It was leased to the nonprofit Peekskill Area Arts Council Inc., which later became the Paramount Center for the Arts. The theater underwent substantial renovation and restoration, including expansion of its backstage area with dressing rooms and equipment for hanging scenery, along with lighting and sound equipment.
The seating capacity had been reduced over the years to the present 1,086. In 2012, however, the theater was closed after amassing a financial shortfall of $300,000 and the search for a new operator resulted in Red House taking over.
Heitman said that the theater is temporarily dark for additional renovations and that the city did its part in addressing plumbing issues; it is now reviewing what the theater needs in the way of upgrades to its heating and air conditioning system. In the meantime, he told the Business Journal, “The idea is not to close the theater — it is to transition it into a better position for the city.”
In a statement, Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainer said: “Our top priority is to ensure the theater (will) remain open and continue to thrive during the entire process.”
Shows already booked for the spring are planned to go on as scheduled, including appearances by singer Don McLean on May 11, rock band Blue Oyster Cult on June 9, and comedian Paula Poundstone on June 15.
The RFP invites either for-profit or not-for-profit entities to apply to lease and operate the theater. It does not specify how much the city is seeking in rent. It further requires that applicants have theatrical management and programming experience, a track record of operating theaters and the financial resources to fully fund capital and operating costs.
It also wants applicants to develop a business plan and be prepared to present a minimum of 100 performances each calendar year consisting of music, drama, the spoken word, film, educational programs and community events.
The deadline for submitting the RFPs is April 12 at 11:00 am. It’s anticipated that applicants will be invited to make in-person presentations on April 22, with the city making its selection of a new operator for the Paramount on May 13.