In the old space formerly filled by the Inter-Media Arts Center (IMAC), across the street from Irish restaurant Meehan’s of Huntington, work men buzz about as the midday sun turns downtown into a hot and humid stew.
Beneath a stripped-down marquee, yellow scaffolding stands behind worn and battered saw horses. The shrieking sound of a power saw pierces the muggy heat. Masking tape X’s covers the glass front doors, a reminder of Hurricane Irene’s destructive presence a few weeks ago.
It’s less than a week before Huntington’s The Paramount, Long Island’s newest concert venue, opens its doors to the public: with a soft opening on Sept. 28 featuring Pittsburgh jam band Rusted Root and a sold-out official opening two days later with headliner Elvis Costello.
According to Billboard Magazine, box office numbers for live music events in North America took a significant dip last year. Gross profits were down 26 percent, there were 15 percent fewer shows and attendance numbers took a 24-percent dive, double that of global numbers.
A handful of superstar acts including Bon Jovi, U2, Lady Gaga and The Black Eyed Peas seemingly sailed through this downturn, but outside the music industry, times are grim. The national unemployment rate is hovering at around 9.1 percent, the battle for the White House is hinging on a teetering economy and companies are still going out of business, as witnessed by the recent shuttering of Farmingdale rock club The Crazy Donkey.
So who in their right mind is taking a shot at opening a new live music emporium in Huntington at a time when Long Islanders are being battered by property taxes, facing potential layoffs and the national poverty rate is hovering around 6 percent?
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
Upon entering the lobby of The Paramount, I’m greeted by Brian Doyle, one of the ebullient partners in this venture. With his glasses and white hair, he bears a passing resemblance to Dean Skelos, majority leader of the New York Senate. But unlike the glad-handing demeanor of a politician, Doyle’s enthusiasm is genuine, particularly after finding out that I’d been to this space in its prior incarnation. With a set of stairs on either side, we begin the tour up a stairwell that has an upper wall covered with wallpaper peppered with song lyrics.
“We took the theater back to its late 1920s origins when it started out as a two-story vaudeville theater,” Doyle explains.
The space where the offices of the late IMAC-head Michael Rothbard and a coat-check area used to be has been opened up, and now features an enormous lobby bar in the center with a newly installed picture window behind it that peers out over the marquee and down onto New York Avenue. With the club 85 percent completed, it’s definitely well enough along to have its personality defined. The mammoth bathrooms at the head of each staircase are decorated with an urban graffiti theme while the exposed beams providing three paths into the main room each have cables running from them down to the floor reminiscent of the cables you’d see on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Along the way, I meet Doyle’s other partners, attorney and chemical distribution company CEO Stephen Ubertini, and Dominic Catoggio, whose construction background has partnered him with Ubertini on prior real estate development projects. The low-key and reserved Ubertini proves to be the design visionary, with the enthusiastic Catoggio executing the ambitious concepts. Among his unusual layout tweaks are reserved loge sections suspended from the ceiling that have staggered levels to ensure unfettered sight lines and an aesthetic preference for exposed beams and interior walls.
“Stripping everything down to the bones of the building right down to the brick, steel and grandness of it makes it an edifice that’s almost like a mystery from the street before you get in,” Ubertini says. “And then it opens up into this place where you have an unforgettable time and feel like you’re in a super cool New York City-type place with elements of Tribeca, SoHo and The Loft.”
Boasting a 25,000-square-foot space and 30-year lease, The Paramount is poised to become the go-to destination on Long Island for bands big and small far into the foreseeable future. Its stage area is enormous.
“It’s large enough that if a headliner comes in with two opening acts, we can set up everyone’s gear simultaneously on the stage and not have to worry about swapping set-ups in and out between sets,” says Doyle.
The backstage renovations are as substantial as those done for the benefit of paying customers. A freight elevator was installed and the loading dock widened for easier load-in/load-out for road crews toting in gear. Roomy dressing rooms with private showers were constructed, as was a common area with a kitchen sporting cherry wood cabinetry, couches and a handful of high-bar tables that seat eight apiece. The hopes of The Paramount having a lengthy future are further enforced by the plain wallpaper running the length of the dressing room corridor.
“We’re encouraging artists and whoever to write their autographs on the wall along with any other thoughts, hopefully nice ones,” Doyle jokingly points out.