JOLIET – Construction of the Rialto Square Theatre’s new marquee design is well underway – limiting what changes, if any, can be done in light of recent public outcry, the theater’s general manager told Joliet City Council members Monday night.
Monday’s pre-council meeting gave Randy Green, the theater’s general manager, along with residents opposed to the design, an opportunity to speak before the City Council about the downtown theater marquee controversy.
About half a dozen residents spoke out against the design after Green’s presentation Monday night.
The design for the new marquee, first unveiled last month, includes a digital display to showcase upcoming acts, but many have criticized the modern version, saying the new design doesn’t fit with the character of the 88-year-old building. Others have concerns about the space devoted to honor the parents of the donor.
Last month’s announcement has since prompted an online firestorm of criticism from many area residents on Facebook, a request for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the Historic Preservation Commission violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act, a call to city officials to withhold funding from the historic theater, and a protest outside the theater over the weekend.
The vetting process for the design started back in 2007, but a $350,000 donation from area businessman Ed Czerkies only just recently made the new marquee possible, Green told council members Monday. Part of the agreement with Czerkies, he said, included providing a prominent place on all three sides of the marquee for him to honor his late parents.
But that’s one design element that Ron Gruber, 56, of Joliet deemed inappropriate Monday night, noting taxpayers should, in theory, be honored equally because they essentially help pay for the Rialto’s operations when the city sets aside funding for the Joliet theater each year.
“The residents have been supporting this theater to [the] tune of $600,000 for how many years now? That money’s not coming out of [your] pockets. It’s coming out of taxpayers’ pockets,” Gruber said to council members Monday. “It’s coming out of everybody’s pockets, not just yours. So why don’t we have a plaque for every taxpayer that’s donated, essentially donated, to the Rialto? Wouldn’t that make sense, too?”
District 5 Councilman Terry Morris asked whether there had been any discussion to remove Czerkies’ parents from the design.
Both Green and Jim Smith, chairman of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, said it was discussed, but that any talks he had with Czerkies over the past few weeks have only been to reaffirm the Rialto’s commitment to the current design.
“If you’d have to characterize it, he’s very concerned and not pleased,” Smith said, adding that he found it refreshing to see the community’s passion for the Rialto.
The donor is “certainly expecting” that to remain, Green said.
Residents, including Sherry Lewandowski of Shorewood, argued Monday that the new marquee design should be reconsidered because she believes it doesn’t complement the theater building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It is noteworthy that our very public objections are not wrapped around the addition of the family name per se, but the overall drastic changes to the marquee design, a marquee that has been featured with countless stars both big and small, several films over the years, and young couples romantically photographing their wedding day with their names elegantly displayed in lights,” Lewandowski said.
Green said he has spoken with photographers, and it would be easy to Photoshop out the names from photographs.
Others questioned the transparency of the process, but Green said the he followed protocol, and went to City Manager Jim Hock earlier this summer to keep him up-to-date on the board finding a donor. The design was reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and did not require state approval because no state or federal funding is required to complete the project.
Green invited residents to the theater’s board meeting Wednesday to offer opinions on the design, but he cautioned any changes moving forward would greatly “depend on what the modifications” were.
Outside the meeting, Green said the company hired to build the new marquee has been “well along in construction” since the board signed off on the project in September. The project is on track to be installed by mid-to-late February, he said.
The Rialto’s board will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Rialto Square Theatre’s auditorium, 102 N. Chicago St.