Paras: "I want to offer something to Madison to be proud of."
When Gus Paras moved to Madison in 1972, he would walk down State Street and marvel at the grand old Orpheum Theater.
"It was one of the few places I admired," says Paras, now a well-known downtown businessman. Last Friday, Paras quietly gained control of the landmark theater, which has been the subject of an ongoing power struggle.
The theater's previous owners, Eric Fleming and Henry Doane, ended tangled up in lawsuits as they fought for control of the building. Doane bought it in 1999 and brought Fleming in as a business partner in 2003.Paras had gotten involved with Fleming in a separate business deal in Waukesha, which also soured. According to Paras, Fleming owed him about $1 million in that venture.
By forgiving that debt, Paras says he was able to buy Fleming's half share of the theater for $1.7 million. He expects to pay about another half-million paying off lien holders on the theater.
He says that the theater is in need of repairs. The roof, a boiler and the AC unit will all have to be replaced, and the plumbing needs work. And he would like to build a kitchen in the basement to provide catering for weddings and other events. He also plans on restoring the marquee and upgrading the lighting and sound system.
"That place is going to eat a lot of money before we go outside to fix the sign,” Paras says. "I'm going to wait on the sign until I fix everything else. I have no choice."
Frank Productions, which is now managing the building for Monona State Bank, still has shows booked there. Paras says he doesn't want to disrupt those and hopes a deal can be made that would allow Frank to continue using the space.
"I'm going to cooperate with everybody," he says. "I have a feeling it will be no problem."
Paras, who also owns the Comedy Club on State, has big plans for the theater. In addition to concerts and weddings, he'd like to host more comedy shows, including a possible comedy festival. He also wants to screen films there and hopes the Orpheum will be a big part of next year's Wisconsin Film Festival. There are also plans for Doane to again operate a restaurant, although where the tables will be situated is uncertain.
Paras says he's willing to invest in the Orpheum. He doesn't expect he will see much profit.
"I want to offer something to Madison to be proud of," he says. "My profit will be my pride."
Ald. Mike Verveer says he would have been happy if either the Franks or Paras ended up with the theater. "The bottom line is the Orpheum is in really good hands," he says. "I"m really relieved at that."