BRISTOL, Tenn. — After years of dealing with an older, costly and failing lighting system the Paramount Performing Arts Center has updated its lights.
The Paramount has experienced tremendous growth in over the last several years in terms of events offered, attendance and ticket sales, but has not received a major renovation in roughly 30 years and the Paramount Foundation is pursuing ways to update the building.
Thanks to a fundraising campaign by the Blue Stocking Club, which has so far raised $182,000, the Paramount was able to pay for a $175,000 lighting system to convert the theater’s incandescent system to LED lighting. The lighting is expected to pay for itself in the next three to five years in the form of savings on energy consumed, officials said.
This is a major improvement from March, when Miles Marek, executive director of the Paramount Foundation, told Bristol Tennessee’s City Council during a called work session that gross revenues brought by the theater exceeded expenditures, but they still did not make enough money for them to pay for lighting updates and other maintenance projects, which if let go for too much longer could cripple their operations.
He said the theater was relying on outside donations to pay for those maintenance projects. Marek pointed to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of state and local tax revenue the Paramount generates per year by attracting people to the city and asked council to increase its yearly donation to the Paramount from $25,000 to $125,000. However, at its recent business meeting on June 4, council voted to decrease the funding it gave to the Paramount to $15,000.
Marek said he understands council is responsible to the city’s taxpayers and they must use the limited funds they have prudently, but he said a donation to the Paramount is an investment in the success of downtown. Its shows attract people from as far away as Ohio and Maryland, and these visitors to the city are staying at hotels, shopping and eating downtown. He said estimates from Americans for the Arts show the Paramount and its audience generated a $2.4 million impact to the local economy in the last 12 months.
Marek said he hopes in the future the city will allocate additional funding to the Paramount, but the Paramount Foundation is seeking other funding sources as well.
“Now that we don’t have to worry about the lights going out, we are in a much better position,” Marek said.
However, there is still a lot work that needs to be done to the 88-year-old building. Marek said a survey showed the exterior of the building needed renovations to restore the historic fixtures and prevent leaks and moisture from getting into the building. Marek said the estimated cost to do all this work would be between $200,000 and $250,000, though it wouldn’t all have to be completed at one time.
“They don’t make them like this anymore,” Marek said. “But they are expensive.”
Moisture and water getting into the building can have disastrous results. In 2010 the lobby of the Paramount suffered damage due to months of moisture seepage through the building’s old and damaged roof. As a result, the theater had to replace parts of the roof, reapply plaster and repaint parts of the theater.
Whenever funds become available, the Paramount plans to buy a state of the art projection system so they can play movies and refurbish the neighboring building that previously housed Whiskey Rebellion for a new purpose, Marek said.
To raise more money and develop a steady stream of donations, the Paramount Foundation has hired Bill Hartley, who previously did development work for East Tennessee State University and the Barter Theatre and is a member of Bristol Virginia City Council, to manage fundraising, set up an endowment and find donors.
“We are doing all the right things,” Marek said.