Saugus proposal not just for laughs

SAUGUS – Investors are looking seriously at Saugus as the potential site for a national comedy hall of fame museum.A developer has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the former Jin restaurant on Route 1 north, according to Town Manager Andrew Bisignani.”I have been talking for the past six months to Matt Adragna from the National Comedians Hall of Fame,” the town manager said, noting the owners of the Jin restaurant have been trying to sell the property since the business closed a few years ago. “There have been many ups and downs during the process.”If the sale is completed as expected by June or July and the project gets under way, the hall of fame and museum would lure an estimated 800,000 to 1 million visitors to the destination each year, Bisignani said, quoting numbers from Adragna.Adragna, who with Tony Belmont co-founded the National Comedians Hall of Fame more 20 years ago, said the Saugus site is well-suited to the purpose. “We love the building with its Asian exterior. In some ways it has a comical aspect and we intend to preserve as much of it as possible,” Adragna said Monday. “There will be a hotel and a restaurant and visitors can see some shows. We will have a performing arts theatre and other attractions where people basically can have fun.”The National Comedians Hall of Fame formerly was sited in Las Vegas, until the economy soured. It was also housed previously in Buffalo, N.Y., in California and in St. Petersburg, Fla.”Right now it looks like everything is falling into place,” said Adragna, a former marketing company executive with a passion for comedy. “We have done the research and everything points to Saugus. We want to create something the town can be proud of and Jin is just the kind of iconic landmark to help us do that.”The restaurant interior will require plenty of renovation but once the space is reconfigured it will become the sort of facility the investors have in mind, Adragna said.”That’s a lot of potential business coming to Saugus. Most of those people would have to stay overnight, so there’s a hotel as part of the plan,” said Bisignani, adding museum patrons would dine, shop, refuel their vehicles and spend on other items while in town. “If this does happen, it will be a tremendous lift for Saugus, not to mention all the national attention the town would receive.”Bisignani compared the project to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Baseball Hall of Fame and similar popular attractions. “It would certainly put us on the map,” he said.The project has an estimated price tag of $50 million, according to Bisignani.”That translates to a lot of tax revenue and permit fees for the town,” he said, explaining town officials should be prepared to address issues such as zoning, signage, liquor licenses and traffic patterns.A gift shop, a concert hall from which to broadcast shows on HBO and Showtime, and an induction hall are all part of the grand design.Adragna said the development could celebrate its grand opening in 2012.Bisignani said he has contacted the state delegation and representatives of various state agencies about what he described as a grandiose project. The developers have invited the Board of Selectmen and other state and local officials to a presentation and walk-through of the property on Wednesday.

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