JOLIET – A group of residents told the governing board of the Rialto Square Theatre they would rather raise their own money for construction of the theater’s new marquee than accept the current designs.
Several dozen residents attended a public hearing Wednesday of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, or WCMEAA, during a public hearing about the marquee’s construction at the board’s regular meeting.
The new marquee design was unveiled late last month; Ed Czerkies, a local businessman, donated $350,000 for the project. It includes modern elements like a digital display for upcoming acts, and a space at the bottom that would read “In Memory of Michael & Mary Czerkies,” as a tribute to Czerkies’ parents.
Residents asked the board about the planning process behind the marquee, which they said is too big. Many also feel the tribute to the donor’s parents should be removed.
“If you needed that money, you should have come to us,” Joliet resident Mary Beth Gannon said, adding she was willing to sell her own antiques to help fund the marquee. “We would have raised more money.”
WCMEAA Chair James Smith said several conversations with Czerkies revealed that Czerkies may pull funding if the tribute to his parents is taken off the design for the marquee.
“He remained somewhat firm in his desire to see the marquee planned as necessary,” Smith said.
Edward Jarot Jr., a local attorney who has been involved with The Rialto Theatre Foundation, said Czerkies donated the money with the stipulation it would be used for the marquee, and the design would need to be approved by Czerkies.
Another criticism of it by area residents is they feel the new marquee doesn’t conform with the historic nature of the building.
Residents have taken to social media to vent about the marquee, requested the Illinois Attorney General’s Office look into the process behind the marquee, called on city officials to withhold funding from the Rialto, and protested outside the theater Sunday.
Rialto General Manager Randy Green said the new marquee is about 75 percent complete, and if the design is scrapped, it could cost the Rialto about $550,000.
Smith said Czerkies is open to alternative designs to the signs, but still wants some sort of memorialization of his parents on the marquee. The Rialto’s leadership still needs to talk with Czerkies, who is planning to meet with family to discuss changes in the design.
On Wednesday, several residents turned their attention to Czerkies’ stipulation that the tribute to his parents should be a part of the marquee.
“I just want Mr. Czerkies to know that his donation does not fall on deaf ears,” Joliet resident Sara Wittchen said. “But I’m a little insulted by the fact that he wanted to pull his donation when he found out he couldn’t have it his way.”
Robert Hernandez was concerned about the level of transparency behind the marquee project.
“They should have had a meeting like this with the public before they started this,” he said. “Citizens have donated millions of dollars to the theater. It should be their names if anyone’s. They should have come to us for funding.”
Wittchen said she created a GoFundMe account, “Save Rialto Theater Marquee” on Wednesday, and hopes to use crowdsourcing to raise at least $100,000 for the marquee. It had $150 as of 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Other residents, including Councilman Bob O’Derkirk who is the WCMEAA liaison to the Joliet City Council, said the project should be put on pause while discussion on the marquee continues.
As of Wednesday, Green said there are no plans to halt construction.