A project to restore an historic theater in western Massachusetts is getting a financial boost from the state.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker stood in the musty-smelling lobby of the Paramount Theater on north Main Street in Springfield Wednesday to announce the state will put $2.5 million toward a project to completely refurbish the decaying one-time vaudeville house.
"We are really looking forward to seeing this project bloom , to see it be a success and see it become one more great example of what the city of Springfield looking forward is all about," said Baker.
The plan is to fully restore the Paramount Theater into a 1,750-seat performing arts venue. The adjoining Massasoit Building, which dates to 1875, will be redeveloped into an 85-room hotel.
Baker said the project is another indicator that Springfield is moving in the right direction.
The project is being spearheaded by the New England Farm Workers’ Council, the nonprofit that purchased the Paramount Theater block in 2011. Herbie Flores, the farm workers’ council CEO, said the proximity to Union Station is key to making the redevelopment a success.
" We have people coming on the train, coming by here, going to the casino," said Flores. "We will (have) the hotel and this place for entertainment. So the vision is there."
The project has a total price tag estimated at $41 million. Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $3.6 million loan guarantee to the city as part of the financing that also includes private investment and tax credits for historic preservation.
Work has already started to replace the roof to prevent further water damage inside the building. Full construction is expected to start in June 2019 and take up to two years to complete, according to Flores.
The renovated theater and new hotel are expected to employ more than 250 people. Part of the mission of the farm workers’ council is to provide employment opportunities for minorities and low-income people.
" When I came here ( from Puerto Rico) people gave me opportunity," said Flores. " This is putting something back."
The state money for the Paramount Theater project was included in a $600 million economic development bond bill passed by the state legislature last session. But it was up to the Baker administration to decide whether to spend the money.
Jay Ash, the Baker administration's Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, said in every conversation he had with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and members of the city’s legislative delegation, they said the restoration of the Paramount Theater was a top priority.
"We are greatful to be part of what's happening and dare I say, if you don't mind governor, we are all in on downtown Springfield," said Ash.
Several legislators, all of them Democrats, spoke at Wednesday’s funding announcement and praised the Republican governor, who is running for a second term.