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Opinions vary on Saugus comedy hall of fame idea

Build it and they will come.SAUGUS – That’s how Matt Adragna feels about the proposed National Comedians Hall of Fame Museum, a $50-million venture which would occupy the former Jin nightclub on Route 1 north.Adragna, co-founder of the organization and the project’s primary proponent, estimates more than 1 million people will visit each year, spending their tourism dollars in local restaurants, on rental cars, refueling automobiles and shopping along one of American’s busiest highways.”It’s a big idea and it’ll take a lot of work, so I guess we’ll just wait and see,” said Selectman Michael Serino.Selectman Scott Crabtree offered a similar view. “We’ll listen to what he has to say,” he said.Both Serino and Crabtree participated in a walk-through of the sprawling 65,000-square foot defunct restaurant and nightclub last week, during which Adragna enthusiastically described his vision of interactive exhibits, small restaurant, gift shop, hall of fame and showcase for comedy-related memorabilia.Precinct 4 Town Meeting member Janet Leuci, an environmental activist long immersed in local zoning issues, said she, too, would take a wait-and-see approach. “I’m listening,” she said.Robert Cox, also a Town Meeting member from Precinct 4, said questions must be answered about traffic flow if the hall of fame museum truly attracts 1 million visitors annually.Precinct 2 Town Meeting member Peter Rossetti Jr. has been discussing the project with Adragna since last October.”He came to me early because one of the big issues he has is signage. Obviously signs are going to play a big role if he gets what he wants. He’s looking for something bigger than anything we have ever had, like a Jumbotron-type of thing,” said Rossetti, a former selectman whose political career includes many years on the Zoning Board of Appeals. “The Board of Appeals has been easing up on those signs over the years, but I told him he is going to have to go some to get what he wants.”Rossetti said Adragna seemed earnest and forthright. “I think he was being honest and straightforward with this. It’s an interesting project. Whether it can be supported is another issue,” he said. “I told him the commonwealth is planning to rebuild Route 1. He didn’t seem to know that. He was talking about completing his project in 2012, but that is about the same time the state was talking about doing construction. When they’re digging up the road in front of you, it’s awfully hard to get 100,000 people through the door.”Despite the obstacles, Rossetti said the project would be “a great thing for the whole area” should it come to fruition. However, he noted the organization is a 501C3, better known as a non-profit corporation. “It would be similar to the Salvation Army on Route 1. They don’t necessarily pay property taxes, but it could be set up so the make a voluntary payment each year in lieu of taxes,” he said.Over the past 20 years, Adragna has tried to establish the National Comedians Hall of Fame Museum in other cities but, for various reasons, the institution did not last.”I have made some mistakes in the past, some big ones,” said Adragna. “But we have done the research and this place will be profitable.”The other attempts to establish a foothold were in Buffalo, N.Y.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Las Vegas.”Of course there is skepticism, especially with something of that magnitude,” said Town Manager Andrew Bisignani. “We had an introduction, a walk-through of the building, and heard a little bit of what his intentions are, but what we need to see is a plan and money. We need to know what the immediate intentions are so we can see how they are going to affect the town, the neighborhood.”Bisignani said he personally supports the project. “I think it would be a great thing for the town and put Saugus on the map,” he said. “It will bring in business. It’s not a nightclub and not a barroom. It’s a whole new venue. And they’re not going to have a local comedy club there.”Route 1 already has t

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