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CEDAR RAPIDS - A different kind of ballet came to the Paramount Theatre on Monday, bringing clean lines, lifts and turns as Nesper Sign Co. workers delicately repositioned the refurbished marquee above the theater's boarded-up entrance.
It's one of the most visible and electrifying signs that the city's crown jewel is about to reopen.
Toward the end of October, the switches will be flipped, restoring the downtown beacon to all its glimmering glory.
With just a few changes, the sign is largely the 1985 model that came down in April, based on Nesper's original 1928 design. A thorough cleaning at the company's shop in southwest Cedar Rapids basically stripped it down to the metal, with a process akin to sandblasting, said Dan Alpers, a Nesper designer onsite for Monday's repositioning.
The sign was repainted, keeping the yellow, orange and red swirling flouishes that made it unique in the downtown landscape. The Paramount name will again shine neon-bright, but the old incandescent light bulbs detailing the fancy twists and turns have been replaced with greener LED bulbs. And the message board has moved into the 21st century.
Where only one show could be advertised at a time on the previous sign, the updated message board, similar to the one at Theatre Cedar Rapids a few blocks away, will allow the venue to herald multiple events at any given time with digital images.
"I haven't seen it assembled. It looks great," Robert Massey, 42, Orchestra Iowa's CEO said as he stepped outside his office at noon. "It's a big improvement over the black letters that kept falling off."
"It's awesome. They're keeping the traditional theater look, but it's got a modern flair in there," said Teresa Hellman, 47, of Swisher, who took a lunchtime stroll to watch the sign's progress. She works at Management Recruiters inside the Paramount office complex and didn't realize anything was happening outside until she saw it on the news.
"I came out here at the right time," she said.
The process began before 8 a.m. and four of the six major components were in place by noon, hoisted via crane and tightened in place by hand from the marquee's support frame and a ladder truck.
Alpers, 36, a lifelong Cedar Rapidian, is thrilled to be part of such a visible restoration of the flood-damaged building.
Nearly eight feet of water pooled in the theater's main floor during the crest of the 2008 flood. Contractors now estimate the $34.7 million restoration project is 85 percent complete. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for Oct. 26, and the first post-flood show at the Paramount, featuring Harry Connick Jr., is Nov. 3.
"This has been a hole in the downtown and a hole in people's hearts," he said.