The bright lights of northern Westchester’s “Broadway” are back on Brown Street in Peekskill.
“Post-covid our audiences have been fantastic,” said Abigail Adams, Executive Director of Paramount Hudson Valley Arts (PHVA), the 501 (c)(3) non-profit that operates the Paramount theater. “People are so hungry to come back and see entertainment.”
Having the Paramount open and drawing regular crowds is a key component of bringing night life to downtown in Peekskill.
“The non-profit that’s running the Paramount has a constant schedule of great music and cultural events there that’s bringing people into the downtown with city residents and others from surrounding communities and creating a lot of opportunity for other businesses,” said Andy Stewart, Peekskill City Manager.
The city has owned the building since it was seized for back taxes in the late 1970s. Several different non-profit operators have managed it over the decades. The Paramount, located at 1008 Brown St., started out as a 1,500-seat movie palace designed by world-famous theater-builders George and Charles Rapp for Publix Pictures, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures. It opened on June 27, 1930. Paramount sold the building in 1973 after it ceased being a viable movie theater.
The current lease between the city and Paramount Hudson Valley contains a cost-sharing component, with the city paying the bulk of the energy costs.
PHVA particularly seeks to develop new work that celebrates Peekskill’s rich history and culture. Annual program highlights include Black History Month programs; fall and spring Shakespeare residencies for family audiences; a Hispanic Heritage Month festival; and an annual Film Convention featuring 35mm and 70mm films: world-class opera, orchestras, chamber ensembles and quartets, jazz, dance and theater.
“We’re plotting out next year, getting shows lined up,” Adams said. “Everybody is scrambling to get their calendars in place now that artists are less reluctant to schedule tours. Due to covid, we rescheduled [comedian] JB Smoove three times.”
Tribute cover bands are proving popular. Musicians who specialize in the music of Elton John on Dec. 3 and Beatles vs. Stones on Dec. 4 promise to be big draws. On New Year’s Eve, The B Street Band, a Tribute to the Boss [Bruce Springsteen], will rock in 2022.
Attendees must show proof of vaccine or a negative test at the door where they receive a wristband to enter. At children’s shows, people are also asked to wear masks.
Through its long history as a non-profit venue, the Paramount has faced many ups and downs. Being shut down by the Covid pandemic was another challenge, but once again Peekskill’s plucky entertainment center has arisen.
A federal grant of $183,000 and support from local restaurateur Louie Lanza of a similar amount helped pull through the crisis.
“Louie is extraordinary, a visionary who is heavily invested in the future of Peekskill,” Adams said. “He realizes that a vibrant theatre is what downtown Peekskill needs to support the other industries.”
Now in its ninth decade, the building needs lots of maintenance and ongoing repairs. The city recently fixed a major roof leak, and plans for a million-dollar state grant include renovations to the building façade and marquee, improved interior spaces for audience and artists, expanded hospitality programs, and upgraded equipment and utilities. Interior upgrades include lighting and sound equipment, stage rigging, accessible seating, flexible seating, and box office renovations.
More money from the state’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) could be redirected to the Paramount from the $1.6 million targeted to renovation of the former Workmen’s Compensation building on North Division Street.
“There’s no official determination at this time,” City Manager Stewart said. “The people involved are very creative and innovative and I have very high hopes that the synergy will move forward.”
“The Paramount Theater is the cornerstone of downtown Peekskill’s economic vitality that provides exceptional entertainment close to home,” said Bill Powers, Executive Director of Peekskill BID (Business Improvement District).
“For communities that have venues like the Paramount,” added Powers, “there was a noticeable decline in foot traffic, especially on weekend or performance nights, when they were forced to close during the pandemic. We are thrilled to see live performances return to the historic stage and delighted that patrons are dining at our restaurants.”
To become a Loyalty Program member of the Paramount, or to receive email updates, visit paramounthudsonvalley.com.
Jim Roberts is a freelance business reporter based in Peekskill.