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Peekskill on Red House running Paramount: 'Give this group a chance'

The venerable Peekskill theater the Paramount Center for

The venerable Peekskill theater the Paramount Center for the Arts suspended operations in October 2012. Photo Credit: Xavier Mascareñas

Having voted unanimously to turn management of the landmark Paramount Center for the Arts over to Red House Entertainment -- a group of entertainment professionals organized for the mission -- Peekskill officials appealed to the public Monday night to "give this group a chance."

Although the vote by the Peekskill Common Council did not seal the deal with Red House -- the details of a lease on the Paramount remain to be negotiated -- Mayor Mary Foster emphasized the finality of the council's selection of Red House over competing proposals from Paramount Phoenix Group and Tarrytown Music Hall.

The 960-seat theater, which is owned by the city, has been shuttered since October.

After the vote, Foster said she has "great confidence" in the theater's future, praising Red House's commitment to cooperation with the city.

"We appreciate that level of community engagement," Foster said. "At the end of the day, we do think that Red House will offer the best opportunities for our residents, our business community and for the city."

Common Councilwoman Kathleen Talbot asked the public to embrace Red House.

"Now that we've made this decision and are moving forward with Red House, I think that it would be great if people could just give this group a chance, and to try to be a little excited and positive going forward," Talbot said.

Talbot added, "I'm feeling very positive."

Not all of the commentary at last night's council meeting was positive.

Before the vote, Peekskill resident George Ondak expressed disappointment in city officials for not pressuring Red House to offer better financial terms.

"You should make it profitable for the people of Peekskill," Ondak said.

Foster explained that Red House will pay rent on the property at 1008 Brown St.

"They will pay it as a percentage of ticket sales, off the top," she added. "And they will operate this theater with the best interest of everybody."

Red House has said it hopes to make the Paramount self-sustaining within six months.

Monday night's vote authorized city representatives to complete the agreement with Red House this month. Foster said she hopes for swift action and is looking forward to "giving them the keys."

Foster and Talbot served on a six-member committee of Peekskill business owners, community members and city officials that screened proposals for the council. The committee recommended Red House Entertainment unanimously.

Also serving on the screening committee were acting City Manager Brian O. Havranek, Peekskill resident Mike Morey and Cortlandt Town Board member Rich Becker.

On Feb. 19, committee member Jason Angell, the president of the Peekskill Business Improvement District, told city officials that, among the three Paramount proposal finalists, Red House offered the best combination of vision, operating structure and financial planning and management experience.

"We thought that their vision really tied in local businesses and community partners and would be a boon to local economic growth," he said at the time.

With a plan to reopen the Paramount with family programming as early as May, Red House anticipates an official grand opening this summer, perhaps with a blues festival. Red House aims to program 80 events this year and 200 next year -- more than what Tarrytown and Phoenix proposed.

"We are extremely excited about this and look forward to being able to announce the programming that they will line up for the summer and fall of this year," Foster said Monday.

Opening in 1930 as a movie complex, the Paramount suspended operations less than three weeks after it hosted a Sept. 15 red-carpet gala to try to raise $300,000 for programming. The Paramount's board of trustees, which later filed plans to dissolve the nonprofit organization then running the theater, blamed economic difficulties, a dearth of donations and grants, and increased expenses.

Peekskill native Kurt Heitmann, who heads the Red House group, has said he envisions the new Paramount as a for-profit music and entertainment venue, with a complementary but independent nonprofit arm dedicated to cultural enrichment and education. Red House provided the lone proposal with a profit-nonprofit hybrid approach. Tarrytown and Phoenix offered solely nonprofit models.

The screening committee has lauded Red House for its experience and programming vision, one that would promote not only Friday and Saturday night concerts but also ethnic, music and movie festivals, together with themed weeks that would keep the venue busy most days of the week and keep people coming to downtown Peekskill. The committee also praised Red House's plan to generate ancillary revenue through radio broadcasts and live streaming of concerts, as well as syndication, TV, concessions, merchandising and sponsorship.

Assembled specifically with management of the Paramount in mind, Red House's team features Heitmann, a senior vice president for CP Communications; Jonathan Close, who works for the International Management Group; Ray Wilson, who has produced for TV, radio and stage; and Abigail Adams, who serves as managing director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at Boscobel.

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