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Local News

New Rialto marquee stirs backlash

JOLIET — The new design for the Rialto Square Theatre marquee has been met with an online firestorm of criticism from many residents.

The Rialto Square Theatre wants to replace the marquee as part of an overall capital campaign to refurbish the whole theater. The theater found funding from Ed Czerkies, a retired construction magnate who announced a $350,000 donation last week to replace the marquee. The design provides a place on the marque for him to honor his parents.

But the design angered many residents, who went on Facebook to complain. Hundreds of comments were posted on the You know you’re from Joliet if… and Councilman Jim McFarland’s Facebook pages.

Marianne Wolf is among the dissenters. Born and raised in Joliet, she said it's a shame the marquee was going to be replaced with something that looks like a “scoreboard for a sporting event."

“That sign is something that would look like it would belong in Las Vegas, not in downtown Joliet,” she said. 

In 2007, the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority — a civic authority responsible for the theater — requested proposals from qualified bidders for a new design of the marquee, said Randy Green, the theater’s general manager. 

After reviewing the submissions, the WCMEAA, with input from Joliet City Center Partnership's since-disbanded architectural design committee, accepted Landmark Sign’s design. That was the design proposed to potential donors over the years, Green said. 

“It was the best reflection of what this building reflects from an architectural standpoint but also in using the modern technology in a way that would enhance our ability to message and provide the information the people are looking for,” he said.

Green said he wasn’t surprised by the reaction to the new design. Despite the criticisms, the Rialto Square Theater is moving forward with it. 

“There are lot of things people react emotionally to and certainly art is one of them and change is another. … I think you have to look at the fact that we continue to do things necessary to make sure the Rialto is a viable entity for Joliet and Will County and that in this case we were able to make a very significant improvement through private funding.” 

Nick Macris, Joliet resident and member of several civic organizations, said he was grateful for Czerkies' donation but he was disappointed with the design of the marquee, specifically the prominence of the donors’ names on it. 

Macris said he didn’t think the public had any opportunity to see or comment on it before it was unveiled Nov. 24 during the opening night of the 2014 Festival of Trees at the Rialto. He said the Rialto Square Theatre should make changes in response to public criticism. 

But Green said there was opportunity to provide input during the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings in September and November respectively, where the design faced no opposition.

Because of the public outcry, McFarland said at Monday’s pre-council meeting he wanted anything of “historic significance” to go before the council for approval and public input.

He also said there should be more news releases and notices about zoning board of appeals and historic commission meetings sent to local media and residents. 

“There’s something fundamentally wrong here and from what I heard from the public, they feel like there was no public input on the changes that were going to take place,” McFarland said.

James V. Smith, WCMEAA chairman, said every WCMEAA meeting is publicly posted and all minutes sent to City Hall. He said the board was unanimous in its approval of the new design.

“This is not something that just popped up. This is an ongoing process. We vetted this and given it thoughtful consideration for years,” he said. 

Joliet Mayor Thomas Giarrante said he believed the WCMEAA did its due diligence and Czerkies was evidently happy with the design by making his donation. 

“Thank God Mr. Czerkies stepped up with this donation and if he’s happy, I’m happy,” he said.

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