Paramount Theatre asks for land to expand

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Paramount Theatre is looking to expand to better make use of space and accessible bathrooms. -- Herald file photo

The Paramount Theatre is looking to expand to better make use of space and accessible bathrooms. — Herald file photo

A group of Austin Area Commission for the Arts and Paramount Theatre leaders presented a skit to the Austin City Council Monday during its work session called, “Where’s the bathroom?”

Executive Director Jenny Knoebel, AACA president Dave Sylte, expansion committee member Alice Holst and steering committee member Jim Burroughs used the play to demonstrate the need for more accessible bathrooms and more space at the Paramount.

The AACA, a nonprofit, is asking for the city of Austin to gift city property next to the Paramount to the commission at little or no cost to make room for the theater’s expansion, which has been in the works for several years.

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In 2012, Miller Dunwiddie architects and planners from theater design consultants Schuler Shook unveiled rough schematics to show residents what a Paramount expansion could look like. The biggest change in each rough plan would involve expanding west and north while using the 20 feet of land east of the Paramount owned by the Austin Area Commission for the Arts as green space.

AACA leaders would like a bigger lobby, more dressing room space, bigger wing space and easier access to the wings from inside the theater, offices, more storage and they would also like to add a black box theater.

Knoebel said they would pay for moving the theater’s utilities and they had moved the utilities once before, which cost about $150,000.

Right now, the AACA is asking to acquire land to the east of the theatre, which is currently a green space, but the AACA may also ask to acquire the Parks and Rec building directly to the west, though they haven’t talked to an architect yet about a specific design.

The timeline for the expansion depends on Austin Utilities’s move to their new facility, which won’t be until July, at least. Parks and Rec would then move into their old space and then Paramount would be able to move into the Parks and Rec building and renovate it to their needs.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said he would be fine with the Parks and Rec office, but they need to look at the 50 feet and make sure they have their bases covered.

The members also said other groups such as the Austin Symphony and the Riverland Community College Theatre Department have expressed interest in using the expanded theater for their events. Larger groups have expressed interest in coming to Austin and doing shows, but the Paramount couldn’t accommodate them for dressing room and stage space.

Currently, there is no way to get from the back of the theatre and stage to the front of the theater without going outside during a show.

AACA leaders said they want to raise about $500,000 that will go strictly to operations. They’ve asked people to make five-year pledges and so far they have 70,000 pledged.

Burroughs said they hope to start construction in 2017.

Since Austin Utilities can’t finish its move until at least July, the council decided to let City Administrator Craig Clark look further into the matter, and he will report back to the council.