Paramount Theatre Restoration Now in Home Stretch
By Dave Franzman, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - It’s not quite ready for a show yet. But work on the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids is approaching the finish line.
Contractors on the flood-restoration project now estimate the $34.7-million project is 85 percent complete. The doors open with a ribbon cutting on October 26th. The first show at the Paramount is set for November 3rd and will feature Harry Connick, Jr.
At the crest of the flood in 2008, nearly eight feet of water stood in the theatre’s main floor. The city of Cedar Rapids invited the media inside on Friday to view the restoration work as it nears completion.
Steve Chia, field manager for Ryan Companies, said it might be difficult for the average resident to see the project at 85 percent finished. But after slightly more than one year of active construction, the project is readily apparent to workers. And he said the final, finishing touches will happen quickly.
About 75 people are inside right now at work at any one time. Chia said the figure was a bit higher at few months ago, and managing that many people was one of the challenges.
“We topped out at 120 people and I want to say there are 30-40 contractors on the job. So fitting all the pieces together is the most time consuming—maybe frustrating thing to do,” Chia said.
As a historic structure damaged by a major flood, funding for reconstruction came from a number of sources. FEMA is reimbursing the city approximately $21-million. A state I-JOBS grant is adding $5-million. State and federal historic tax credits will provide approximately $8.7-million. But the funding is dictating both the look and pace of the reconstruction as workers have to restore damage to historic standards. For instance, workers can’t renovate or expand with modern methods if it conflicts with the historical look of the theater.
One example noted during the tour were ten columns constructed with a method known as Marezzo Scagliola. It’s a technique that involves using a super hard version of Plaster of Paris with colors that are consistent throughout the material.
Michael Thomas with OPN Architects said there may be as few as two dozen people throughout the U.S. that are capable of working with that material in a theater reconstruction project. So it took hundreds of man hours and about six months to finish the columns in the theater’s hall of mirrors.
Thomas said “it’s a fascinating process to go back and look at how things were put together and explore how we might do that today.”
Those visiting the theater during the October 26th open house will probably pay more attention to the dramatic changes and some of the creature comforts rather than the difficulty of matching 85-year-old construction techniques and materials. For instance, all the new seats now installed are wider than the old ones. That’s expected to be a fan favorite.
And patrons can view an expanded stage and orchestra pit that now has room for 50 instead of 15 musicians. That will open up the Paramount to a wider variety of traveling shows.
But perhaps the greatest thrill when the Paramount reopens in late October is seeing just how they made a building look both old and new at the same time.
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