CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s not quite ready for a show yet.
But work on the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids is approaching the finish line.
Nearly eight feet of water pooled in the theater’s main floor during the crest of the 2008 flood. Contractors now estimate the $34.7 million restoration project is 85 percent complete. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for Oct. 26, and the first post-flood show at the Paramount, featuring Harry Connick Jr., is Nov. 3.
Steve Ciha, field manager for Ryan Companies, said it might be difficult for the average resident to believe the project is 85 percent finished. But after slightly more than one year of active construction, he said the progress is readily apparent to workers. He added the final, finishing touches will happen quickly.
About 75 people are working inside at any given time. Ciha said the figure was a bit higher a few months ago, and managing that many people was one of the challenges.
“We topped out at 120 people and I want to say there are 30 to 40 contractors on the job. So fitting all the pieces together is the most time consuming, maybe frustrating thing to do,” Ciha said.
All the new seats in the theater are wider than the old ones. The stage and orchestra pit also have been expanded and now have room for 50 musicians instead of 15. That should make the Paramount available to a wider variety of shows.
Funding for the restoration came from a number of sources. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is reimbursing the city approximately $21 million. The state kicked in with a $5 million I-JOBS grant. State and federal historic tax credits will provide approximately $8.7 million.
The funding is dictating both the look and pace of the reconstruction as workers have to restore features using historic preservation standards. For instance, workers can’t renovate or expand with modern methods if it conflicts with the historic look of the theater.
One example noted Friday was 10 columns constructed with a method known as Marezzo Scagliola. It’s a technique that involves using a super hard version of plaster of Paris with colors that are consistent throughout the material.
Michael Thomas with OPN Architects said there may be as few as two dozen people in the United States that are capable of working with that material in a theater reconstruction project. So it took hundreds of man hours and about six months to finish the columns in the theater’s hall of mirrors.
Thomas said “it’s a fascinating process to go back and look at how things were put together and explore how we might do that today.”