The legal show must go on after the Huntington Board of Zoning Appeals deferred a vote and left the record open for a parking variance Thursday night that would allow a group of investors to refurbish the former Inter-Media Arts Center.
The Paramount Theatre, LLC, a group seeking to renovate the theater and double its capacity from 700 to 1,665, came before the board to request a parking variance that would allow them to use nearby municipal lots to satisfy the required 438 parking spaces.
The theater's renovations would include a restored marquee, a second-floor stage, seated dining in the balcony section, and a VIP area above the stage and would cost $3 million, according to Neil Hoffman, the group's architect. The group also said they had a preliminary deal in place with LiveNation, an events company that specializes in concert promotions and has worked with popular venues like the Nikon Theater at Jones Beach and Nassau Coliseum.
"It's that quality of music and kind of pedigree that we hope to bring to Huntington Village," Michael L. McCarthy, attorney for the group, said at the hearing. "For them to take an interest in this site ... it's huge for the town."
To solve traffic problems, the group proposed a valet system that would operate out of the Elm Street parking lot, as well as a shuttle service that would take concertgoers from the Huntington LIRR station to the venue and back. They said they would use social media and discount deals with local restaurants to encourage people to use the services.
"The concept here is to catch them at the train station before they enter the traffic stream into the village," traffic expert Wayne Muller said on behalf of the group.
While the board seemed impressed and was supportive of the renovations, some board members were still concerned about traffic issues.
"When Willie Nelson shows up in the bio-diesel, where does he go?" asked Board chair Christopher Modelewski while voicing his concerns about where the tour buses for major acts would park.
Muller said that though the bus could park in the back alley behind the theater, there would have to be a "little bit of trial and error" during the first few months to figure out a solution that would work long term.
McCarthy presented the board with 28 letters of support from various neighborhood organizations at the end of the hearing, but two business owners stepped forward during public comment to oppose the application.
John Tunney, who owns several businesses on New York Avenue, said the traffic solutions would not work and added that the board should not feel obligated to grant the application.
"Not every business opportunity has to be taken," Tunney said.
John Rieger, owner of Honu, said the exclusive valets used by the theater were "patently unfair" and urged the board to review the application carefully. Modelewski noted that Rieger came before the board with an expansion of his restaurant comparable in size to the theater renovations several years ago.
The board also heard statements of support from Northport village trustee Thomas Kehoe, representatives of Vision LI, and the Huntington Chamber of Commerce. Larry Kushnick, vice chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed theater would be a magnet of attention for the village.
"It is beyond dispute that the Paramount will attract local, national, and international attention," Kushnick said.
IMAC executive director Kathie Bodily spoke last, and said quietly that though she was disappointed IMAC and the town could not work out a similar plan to refurbish the theater. She added that she would approve of the renovation if parking concerns were addressed.
"For the most part, I support this project if the wrinkles are ironed out," Bodily said.
After hearing testimony for over an hour, the board decided to deliberate further. A date for the next hearing was not set, though McCarthy said that a decision would have to be made by the end of September when preliminary deals must be signed.