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Orpheum Theater gets new owner, outlook

By Jennifer Hoff, jhoff@wisctv.com
Published On: Oct 30 2013 10:09:07 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 31 2013 01:43:37 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

For the first time in a long time, Madison's Orpheum Theater has a new owner and he has big changes in mind for the historic building.

Businessman Gus Paras bought the Orpheum Friday -- a move that comes with an array of necessary upgrades, and a future free of lawsuits and feuds that have long plagued the theater.

Tom Titley, a Madison native, was a teenager when he'd visit the theater to watch Western movies.

"Tourists walk up and down here, and inevitably they stop and take pictures," said Titley.

The Orpheum opened in 1926, and debuted about 2,000 seats and ornate architecture.

For at least the past decade, the Orpheum has been plagued with problems and Titley wishes they could be fixed.

"It means something to me because of being raised here and going to the theater," said Titley.

Paras might be the solution.

"We finally figured out how to do it and we're done, it's final," Paras said. "It's over, I bought it."

Paras paid off the more than $1 million mortgage, got a loan and plans to invest another million into the building to continue concerts and bring back film screenings, and eventually host weddings.

But safety upgrades come first.

"We have a plumbing problem, we have a roofing problem, we have a boiler problem, we have an air conditioner problem," said Paras.

Paras hopes his purchase will put aside some other problems.

Ten years ago, bad business dealings between former co-owners Henry Doane and Eric Fleming led to a lot of lawsuits, and last year, the city took away the Orpheum’s liquor license. Paras plans to apply for a new one soon.

"If any group comes and wants to put a show here, we're going to welcome them," said Paras.

Titley looks forward to the future Orpheum, and if he doubts its success, he only has to look to the nearby Comedy Club Paras owns, which is rated top five in the country.

"I just want to be the one to bring back the Orpheum," said Paras. "I want to say, I did it."

Paras said he'll honor concerts already booked at the building and he's working with a local production company to host more in the future.

Doane, who some people called a victim of the Orpheum's decade-long bad business dealings, will also pair with Paras in the new venture.

They hope to start some interior construction in the spring.

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