Paramount pains: Theater takes toll on neighbors

Rapture unveiled its hip new dance club November 14, but the fountain of water shooting out of the downstairs brick wall five days later was not part of the planned d├ęcor. The water came courtesy of Mother Nature, but for diverting it into his glass and steel dance club, Rapture co-owner Mike Rodi blames the Paramount Theater.

Rodi estimates that the construction outside his door– most recently to lay new utility lines under Third Street NE has cost him "tens of thousands" of dollars.

When the street is paved, Rapture never has a problem with flooding, he says. "Now that it's gravel, water goes right into trenches and tunnels that are not meant to be exposed. They want the brick wall to be a dam."

Rodi and his landlord, Allan Cadgene, say they've made numerous complaints to the city about the torn-up street. "Every time they dig it up, they should put down temporary asphalt," says Cadgene.

"Poor Mike," he continues. "This is the third or fourth time it's flooded. It hurt his business and delayed the opening. He's put millions in the new dance section."

And Cadgene worries that continued flooding will weaken the brick wall underneath Rapture.

Paramount executive director Chad Hershner is sympathetic to Rapture's plight– but says the flooding was caused by a contractor under city control digging up the street. "We're not doing anything on Third Street per se," says Hershner.

Rodi may not agree. He points to steel beams lying in the street and blocked-off parking spaces on Market Street devoted to Paramount construction. "We weren't given a couple of spots for our construction," he says. And delivery or service trucks have to park blocks away.

Other Paramount neighbors are suffering from the ambitious project. Tee-Tee Jackson, owner of Jackson 2 Body and Soul Salon on Third Street, isn't sure her business will live to see the curtain raised at the Paramount.

"We have no business," says Jackson. "All we're doing is paying rent– and hardly doing that."

Jackson says that with a chain link fence blocking Third Street, many people think the street is closed, and that has cost her walk-in business. "Clients who are handicapped can't come down here. We're afraid they're going to get hurt," she says.

"We're trying to be good neighbors," says Hershner. The Paramount had signs made with the Third Street business logos and one urging pedestrians to patronize the construction-besieged businesses. "We've advertised in local newspapers– the Reflector and Charlottesville-Albemarle Tribune," he adds.

"Not everybody picks up the Reflector," says Jackson, of the new African-American newspaper. "We have white clients, too." She says she was told it was expensive to advertise in the Daily Progress. "I said, it's expensive for us to run this business."

Jackson's next-door neighbor, Nail Secrets, has also lost customers from the construction. Owner Shirley Barrett estimates her business is down 20 to 25 percent. "Seniors have problems," she says. "They fear the noise, and they're afraid of the overhead crane going over the building. And they can't drive up to the door."

Now that it's getting dark early, Barrett says, it's "spooky" to come to her shop: "You don't know what's up here in this tunnel they've built."

Hershner counters that he has made sure the area is well-lit.

Nail Secrets has also had some flooding. "They put sandbags in front of the door," she says. "It's not very attractive."

Can Barrett survive the heavy construction, which may last through next June? "I'm praying," she says.

Other neighbors are more sanguine about the inconvenience. "It's a bit of a nuisance," says Brian Helleberg at Fleurie, "but the Paramount is one of the reasons we picked this location."

Helleberg says customers at his fancy French restaurant have complained about looking at porta-potties and construction debris while they dine, and he notes that he's lost walk-in tourist trade because the chain-link fence blocking Third Street is "not very inviting."

But he says the Paramount has been very responsive to his concerns, and some of its supporters are patronizing his restaurant. In the long run, he thinks the renovated theater will be very good for business.

And other Paramount neighbors such as Glo, Sal's Pizza, and Chaps Ice Cream report no problems with the construction and praise how conscientious the theater has been.

"I've been around a lot of construction," says Chaps' owner Tony LaBua. "This appears to be the best run, nicest crew. If you've got a problem, they take care of it."

One of the most malodorous problems this summer surfaced when the Paramount foundation footers were being poured. The concrete seeped into an old sewer line no one was aware of and found its way into a main line. "It blocked us up good," says city engineer Tony Edwards.

"We had raw sewage in the basement," reports Joan Fenton, owner of a shop called April's Corner.

The sewer line was so totally blocked that bricks on the Mall were dug up so the line could be rerouted.

In addition, there have been some complaints about two trees that were cut down on Market Street in front of Southern Financial bank.

"The trees were in the path of the underground conduit," says Edwards. The trees had buckled the sidewalk, and would lose 50 percent of their roots when the conduit was installed. They were cut, says Edwards, because of "the liability from weakened roots and the tree blowing over into the street."

On November 22, Third Street was given a temporary layer of asphalt and a berm at the top of the street that will channel water into the storm drain and away from Rapture. Hershner says the huge crane will be out of there by the end of November.

"It's one thing when you describe the construction," he says, "and another when the crane is actually there. The neighbors have been really understanding."

As for those frustrated by the Paramount construction, Edwards says, "Anything this big and involved in a tight, downtown urban setting– it's very understandable."

Hershner promises the inconvenience will be worth it. "In the end, it's going to be so magnificent."

Mike Rodi: Where's the love?