‘Bullish on downtown Springfield’: Gov. Charlie Baker, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, hail Paramount Theater and Massasoit House Hotel project
SPRINGFIELD — The New England Farm Workers Council ceremonially broke ground Monday on the long-planned but oft-delayed $38-million rehab of the Paramount Theater and Massasoit House Hotel.
“It’s a great day,” said Heriberto Flores president of the New England Farm Workers Council and developer of the historic building. “A lot of things had to come together for us to get here.”
The elements that came together involve a confluence of state and federal historic tax credits, as well as the Opportunity Zone Tax Credit included in the 2017 federal tax reform, said Warren Kirschenbaum, president of the Cherrytree Group on Newtown, Massachusetts. The company is handling the project’s financing. All together, those tax programs will raise about $20 million — nearly half the project’s estimated cost.
The project is also getting $3.8 million in HUD Section 108 Loan Funds through the city and the federal government, a $2 million grant from the state that was announced last year, and private funding.
Construction will begin later this month on a new roof for the building. On Monday, onlookers toured the lobby — still elegant, though now stained by water damage.
The 85-room hotel should be done by December 2020. The historic Paramount theater, built in 1929 as a movie palace, will be completed a year after that, in December 2021.
Construction unions at Monday’s announcement said all trades will work on the project with about 200 jobs created. At the height of construction there will be about 100 workers on the job at any one time.
The new Paramount will be a 1,750-seat entertainment venue — smaller than the 2,611-seat Symphony Hall. It will give Springfield an opportunity to draw more entertainers to a venue that started off hosting vaudeville acts and silent movies, and more recently played host to rapper 50 Cent.
Main Street Hospitality — owner of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and operator of historic hotel properties around New England — will guide the design of and reconstruction of the Massasoit and will manage the 85-room hotel.
Sara Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality, was there Monday with Gov. Charlie Baker, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield and Flores for the ceremonial ground breaking.
She said Main Street is a philosophy, not just a name. The company has new hotels on the main streets of Pittsfield and North Adams.
“We want to be part of main streets that are vital and growing,” she said. “The thing about hotels is that we never close. We are open all the time, providing a place where people want to go.”
Baker promised to be back to see the finished product.
“The timing is right. It’s the right project with the right people,” Baker said. “We are bullish on this project. And we are bullish on downtown Springfield.”
Neal was one of the speakers who recalled coming to the theater as a kid. He even saw a closed-circuit broadcast of an Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight there.
“The redevelopment of the northern blocks bedeviled Springfield mayors for as long as I can remember,” Neal said. “And the reason was what to do with upper floors.”
Flores said Main Street’s work on the hotel redevelopment solves that problem, and helps the city meet the demand for rooms created by MGM Springfield.
The building, which dominates a Main Street block not far from the recently renovated Union Station, dates to 1843 and itself grew when the railroad first came to Springfield.
Neal said he’s working on legislation that could help direction federal funds for green energy and other development to areas near existing transportation hubs like Union Station.
“It’s already passed the House,” he said. “It will pass the Senate.”
The Massasoit House has hosted visitors including Charles Dickens, Horace Mann, Daniel Webster, Samuel Colt, Jenny Lind, P.T. Barnum, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Presidents Franklin Pierce, U.S. Grant and Andrew Johnson.
Its original owners made it a stop for escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad.
In 1926, just a small piece of the hotel was demolished, and the theater built behind it.
The Paramount’s organ can play sound effects — train whistles, car horns — to accompany silent movies, and its dressing rooms could accommodate as many as 75 people.