New Brunswick

Paramount Theatre nears final curtain

Saint John is on the verge of losing one of its landmarks now that Uptown Saint John is no longer moving ahead with the Paramount Theatre project.

Uptown Saint John has backed away from the restoration project

Saint John is on the verge of losing one of its landmarks now that Uptown Saint John is no longer moving ahead with the Paramount Theatre project.

The business agency had wanted to transform the old, vacant theatre on King Square into two large performance spaces and a café, restoring the dilapidated interior to its former Art Deco-style glory and making it the centre piece of a performing arts district.

But Peter Asimakos, the general manager of Uptown Saint John, said another group will have to take over plans to save the prime piece of real estate from the wrecking ball.

Uptown Saint John could no longer lead the project, which had an estimated upfront cost of $3.5 million, without financial commitments from government and the private sector, he said.

"I think everybody likes the project, but there is a list of projects in the city and there's funding shortages everywhere. So it's not an easy task to try and meet all these project opportunities."

Fundraisers did bring in a small amount of cash and the city had committed some funding, but that was cut from the 2012-13 budget when no money came in from the province or Ottawa.

Meanwhile, Uptown Saint John has been paying nearly $3,000 a month for more than a year to stave off demolition of the building, which has sat vacant since 2005 and unused for several years prior to that, said Asimakos.

"We felt that since the funding picture for this project was looking not so promising in the near term, that we started to focus on other activities that perhaps have been taking a back seat."

Asimakos said he's willing to share Uptown Saint John's business plan with whoever wants to move foward with the project.

If no one else steps up, the building's owner Paul Daeres plans to turn the property into a parking lot.

He said he doesn’t want to tear the building down, but it doesn't look like there's much hope left.

Proponents disappointed

Filmmaker Michael McDonald, who had fought to save the old cinema is disappointed.

He maintains the Paramount could have been a catalyst for big change in the uptown area, currently rife with empty buildings.

"These buildings are the hearts of the neighbourhood. They're what attracts people and businesses, and wherever there's activity, you're going to see an injection of life," he said.

"And to tear this building down, we are going to lose our theatre district."

The reaction among Saint Johners questioned by CBC News on Wednesday is mixed.

"If you start tearing down your central part of the city, the city starts to erode," said Ryan Massey.

"And if you give up on places that people can go and do things in the uptown area, and it goes to the suburbs or some of the outlying areas, then we miss the whole uptown culture, the whole uptown vibe."

But Pierrette Ross said it’s time for something to be done – one way or the other.

"Either they get rid of this eyesore, or fix it up so it's nice," he said. "Otherwise, tear it down, which is kind of a shame because it's a good enough building."

The Paramount Theatre was built in 1947. The bulding on the outside has not changed, however, in the 1970s the one large cinema was divided into two smaller ones, according to a New Brunswick Community College architectural heritage website.