Huntington leaders welcome new theater
For months, visitors to downtown Huntington -- if they listened closely -- could hear the soft thump-thump-thump of a heartbeat.
The sound came from the shuttered New York Avenue building that for 26 years had been the Inter-Media Art Center. Each heartbeat, broadcast through a speaker in the lobby, signaled a step closer to transforming it into the state-of-the-art Paramount theater, Long Island's newest concert venue.
Town officials and many businesses hope it also represents a renewed, lively pulse in the village.
After eight months of renovations, the 25,000-square-foot space is ready to rock with an opening weekend featuring a sold-out concert by Elvis Costello on Friday.
"It's going to be great to have that type of cultural experience here in the town again," said Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone.
Backers of the new venture faced challenges, including parking limitations in Huntington, and the weak economy.
"If you are willing to take a risk, particularly on a venture like this -- and it is a risk -- Huntington is the place to do it," said Robert Bontempi, chairman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce. "If you look at the town itself, it is a world-class community around dining, arts, theater."
IMAC accommodated about 600 patrons and hosted acts ranging from jazz greats Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock to contemporary singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega. But a drop in funding and the rising costs of live productions led it to close in June 2009.
Three Huntington-area businessmen last year signed a 30-year lease and converted the one-time vaudeville hall into a modern concert venue, with exposed brick, polished-concrete floors, four bars with rich wood finishes, and capacity for more than 1,500 patrons.
"When the place became available, we put together a team to see what we could do to make it special and things fell into place," said Brian Doyle, who with Dominic Catoggio and Stephen Ubertini decided to privately invest in the theater.
They declined to say how much the renovation cost other than that it was "in excess of $5 million."
"It's no different than opening a restaurant or any other type of business in this economy -- it's not the greatest time. That said, if it offers a good experience, people will go," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a concert industry magazine based in Fresno, Calif.
After IMAC closed, Petrone formed a task force to ensure that performing arts would continue in Huntington. Town board member Susan Berland recommended the investor group to the task force.
With parking spaces downtown at a premium, especially on weekends, some area restaurant owners raised concerns that concertgoers would occupy limited spaces for hours.
The Paramount backers agreed to encourage patrons to use 344 spaces at the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station, town officials said. Two trolley cars will ferry 30 people at a time on a 4-minute, mile-and-a-half ride to a drop-off near the theater from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Paramount officials will pay the town $9,000 a year for that lot and for using 150 spaces at Town Hall and 67 on upper Elm Street for valet parking, town officials said.
John Rieger, one of the owners of Besito restaurant on New York Avenue, had raised concerns about parking but said he is excited to see the Paramount open.
"We are hopeful that the mitigating measures [for parking] imposed by the zoning board will be effective," Rieger said.
Town officials and the investment group are hoping the caliber of shows attracts visitors from around the region.
"Another benefit is it will increase traffic to all Huntington businesses along Route 110, not just the village," Berland said.
Doyle said when designing the space, the goal was to make sure patrons and performers have an unforgettable evening.
"I honestly feel we'll open up Long Island to the music industry as a music hub -- something that didn't exist before," he said.
Ubertini said the idea was to create a friendly atmosphere in an urban-like setting with nods to Manhattan's TriBeCa and SoHo neighborhoods. "It's a place like no other on Long Island. . . . It's going to be a unique place that most people have never seen before."
Fall acts at The Paramount
The Paramount theater's eclectic initial schedule is already generating a lot of excitement. Here are some of the fall's hottest tickets:
Blue Öyster Cult (Oct. 8)
The rock legends will be the first Long Island Music Hall of Famers to christen the venue, pulling from its massive catalog that includes "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Burnin' for You."
Willie Nelson (Nov. 2)
The country music legend will present material from throughout his remarkable career, now entering its sixth decade.
The Pixies (Nov. 5)
The indie-rock pioneers finally reach Long Island after having played seemingly almost everywhere else since their 2004 reunion. They plan to perform their classic "Doolittle" album in its entirety.
Goo Goo Dolls (Nov. 12)
Brand New (Nov. 27-28)
The Long Island rock heroes will go down in The Paramount's record books as the first act to sell out back-to-back nights at the theater, as area fans jump at the chance to hear some of the band's upcoming album.
-- Glenn Gamboa