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Historic Theater Reopens

November 10, 2009

THE HISTORIC LOEW’S PARADISE THEATER, A ONE-TIME MOVIE THEATER, HAS REOPENED ITS DOORS FOR CONCERTS AND EVENTS AFTER A TWO-YEAR CLOSURE (PHOTO: J. FERGUSSON)

THE HISTORIC LOEW’S PARADISE THEATER, A ONE-TIME MOVIE THEATER, HAS REOPENED ITS DOORS FOR CONCERTS AND EVENTS AFTER A TWO-YEAR CLOSURE (PHOTO: J. FERGUSSON)

By ELIZABETH BRIDGES

It was a sight unseen along the Grand Concourse for more than two years: a buoyant throng of people waiting in line outside the iconic Loew’s Paradise Theater.

Braving a steady rain and defying a dreary economy, nearly 3,000 people turned out for the reopening of the classic theater on Oct. 24.

“It hurt when it closed,” said Lisa Phillips, 46, who was among the crowd waiting to see a performance by Charlie Wilson of the GAP Band. “That’s why I’m so happy now. It’s going to bring a lot of money, and we won’t have to take our money to Manhattan.”

The theater’s return marks a rare economic bright spot for the neighborhood. About 90 people from the neighborhood found jobs there, and studies show that art institutions can often stimulate broader local economies.

One of Loew’s new managers, Derrick Sanders, said that the economic climate made reopening more of a priority, particularly given the 13.3 percent unemployment rate in the Bronx. “Jobs are the most important thing,” Sanders said.

Reopening in the midst of a recession was oddly appropriate, given that its doors were first opened in 1929 when the stock market crashed. It operated successfully for more than 40 years, before a string of closures and reopenings.

The theater underwent a massive renovation in the early 2000s, when painstaking attention was given to restoring the smallest details on ceiling murals and nude Greek statutes. A new manager, Joe Gentile, took it over in 2007, but it closed within months amid allegations of mismanagement. Several promoters claimed that Gentile, husband of actress Cathy Moriarty-Gentile, failed to pay them, according to news reports.

Since then, the empty 45,000-square-foot theater has loomed over the Grand Concourse with bolted doors and a shuttered box office.

As recently as early August, locals speculated that it would not reopen anytime soon. But in early September, Sanders, a concert promoter, partnered with fellow Bronx native and On The Rocks Entertainment promoter Shelby Joyner, and with Gabriel Boter, a businessman, with the mission of reopening the theater within a month, despite the shaky economy.

Jasmine Lopez, 28, a recently hired usher at the theater, said she was unemployed until the theater reopened.

“I looked a long time, over a year” Lopez said. “I even went down low. I applied to McDonald’s. Now, this is like a Madison Square Garden in the Bronx.”

Even locals who had jobs were glad to see opportunities become available in their neighborhood. Yarisa Figueroa, a 21-year-old bartender, said that working in the neighborhood will enable her to spend more time with her baby.

“I worked at LaGuardia [Airport] before,” Figueroa said. “You always have to apply out of the Bronx to get a job.”

A cultural center in the Bronx could play a vital role in stimulating the local economy. A report by the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank focused on improving New York City, states that the cultural economic sector has the potential to “bring benefits that go far beyond direct employment.”

“Among [the creative economy’s] greatest strengths is the ability to attract other businesses and jump start neighborhood development… by giving local economies their ‘soul,’” the report states.

Based on results from the opening night, Sanders, Joyner, and Boter believe that the theater will grow and realize its potential to bring this “soul” and revitalize the local economy.

More than 2,800 of the 4,000 seats were filled that Saturday.

“Being that there was a storm, we did excellent,” said Joyner. “It was great, but like every operation, you can learn from it. With the mistakes we had, we’re only going to get better with time. We’re in a great place right now.”

The management expects to fill more seats for an increasing number of upcoming events. In November, the theater will host two acts. The Queen Project, a female R&B trio, will perform on Nov. 21, followed by a Thanksgiving Extravaganza featuring R&B standouts Stephanie Mills and Freddie Jackson on Nov. 28.

Editor’s Note: To find out more about upcoming performances, visit  www.paradisetheaterevents.com

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One Response to “Historic Theater Reopens”

  1. Theater » Historic Theater Reopens : Mount Hope Monitor on November 10th, 2009 7:59 pm

    [...] Original post: Historic Theater Reopens : Mount Hope Monitor [...]

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