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Local News

Rialto asks Joliet for more money

More money needed for operations, theater officials say

People view Christmas trees Nov. 24 during the opening night of the 2014 Festival of Trees at the Rialto in Joliet. The theater has requested more funding to operate the Rialto.
People view Christmas trees Nov. 24 during the opening night of the 2014 Festival of Trees at the Rialto in Joliet. The theater has requested more funding to operate the Rialto.

JOLIET – Rialto Square Theatre administrators are asking for more money from the city, saying current funding is not enough to keep up with day-to-day operations and needed repairs.

In a letter sent this week to the Joliet mayor and city council, Rialto officials explained the financial situation. Officials requested $850,000 to help subsidize general operations – or $250,000 more than what the city budgeted for the theatre in 2015 and in years past.

The chances of getting more funding is unlikely, Mayor Tom Giarrante said Wednesday, with the city’s recently proposed $279 million budget relying on reserve funds to balance a projected deficit.

“I understand their plight. Expenses go up, but we are in the same condition,” Giarrante said. “We have departments undermanned, police undermanned. We have staff members doing two or three jobs.”

The Rialto’s request for additional funding comes the same week a handful of residents upset over a proposed new marquee design have called on the City Council to withhold all funding from the theater.

The city has historically put aside money to underwrite operational costs for the Rialto. But an economic downturn led to city officials pulling back contributions to the Rialto and other Joliet-area cultural institutions a few years ago. Since then, the city has given the Rialto the same flat amount of $600,000 each year.

Randy Green, general manager for the Rialto, said repair costs for the 88-year-old historical building are becoming more complicated and extensive, requiring more dollars than are available in the theater’s $4 million annual budget.

Rialto revenue sources include ticket sales, donations, commercial leases, merchandise and the city’s yearly grant, Green said.

The lack of tenants to fill up the theater’s 180,000 square feet of commercial space also is a problem, he said. Space in the north wing has been entirely vacant for the last 20-plus years.

A more steady, guaranteed supply of income would help the Rialto bring in more shows and raise more revenue, Green said. The Rialto continues to be an essential element for downtown businesses and for the city’s redevelopment plans for the City Center, he said, but the theater lacks the funding needed to bring in new shows and programming.

Councilman Bob O’Dekirk, who serves as the city’s liaison for the Rialto, agreed with the mayor on the city’s financial situation, but said Rialto’s argument is a strong one.

“It seems like every proposal and plan we come up with for downtown redevelopment, the Rialto is a big part of it,” he said. “The Rialto is crucial is any type of redevelopment we do downtown.”

The Rialto’s success not only helps the theater but businesses nearby, he said.

“They look at this as more of an investment,” he said, noting the Rialto board’s desire to attract younger audiences.

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