City may find after-life in Paradise Theater

If money can be found, city could takeover historic site

Dec. 15, 2009

West Allis — With its boarded up windows outside and unused theater and office spaces inside, the historic Paradise Theater still looks like a building in transition at the corner of one of the city's busiest intersections.

It's a scene at Greenfield and National avenues and 60th Street that's become pretty familiar to passers-by. Since movies stopped playing there in 1996, the building has struggled to attract a permanent tenant, which has contributed to its deterioration and the unsightly scene.

But West Allis officials are now exploring whether there is any historic preservation money to aid in the redevelopment of the theater, 6229 W. Greenfield Ave.

A developing situation

The city is in the early stages of seeing whether state funds are available to help the city purchase the property, with the ultimate goal of getting it into the hands of a private developer, city Planner Shaun Mueller said.

"We're just seeing what's out there to see if we could assist moving those properties along," Mueller said.

The city has long sought to restore the building, in part due to its location in the emerging, redeveloped Six Points neighborhood and also because of its historic nature.

Banking on the future

The building is now owned by the State Bank of Chilton after a foreclosure. The Paradise Family Life Center was the latest tenant, holding religious services there for about four years.

The group that ran the church, Ziklag Global Investments, was forced out due to the foreclosure and after the Common Council last year revoked its special-use permit.

Aldermen at the time said the group didn't live up to its obligations of the permit - one of the stipulations was putting windows on the east end of the building - and owed $70,000 toward parking for the area's redevelopment.

The once-open aired east end of the building was eventually boarded up amid neighbors' and city officials' complaints of skateboarders and loitering.

A history of economic woe

Tough economic times are nothing new for the Paradise Theater. It was built during the Great Depression and allowed cash-strapped residents to see movies for a nickel, said Devan Gracyalny, West Allis Historical Society president.

Gracyalny has been told the building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and he hopes grant money can help revitalize the building.

"I think it's a wonderful building and I would hope it can be saved either privately or through a private-public joint partnership," he said.

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