JOLIET — Ed Czerkies, the donor at the center of the recent Rialto Square Theatre marquee controversy, issued a letter Monday saying he would be happy to take his $350,000 donation back – but a Rialto official said he has not closed the door on the deal.
In the letter to The Herald-News, Czerkies noted he had no control over the appearance of the marquee and his only stipulation was his parents’ names be on it. The renderings for the marquee include a space on all three sides to honor his parents.
He wrote later in the letter that many people donate to organizations they "hold dear to their hearts. Like myself, they simply want to know that their contribution is appreciated." But Czerkies wrote he has come to the conclusion that the donation to the Rialto will not be viewed in a positive way.
“At this time I would be very happy to receive my donation returned to me, so I can seek out other charitable ways to honor my parents," Czerkies wrote in a letter to The Herald-News.
The letter was sent Monday via email from his oldest son, Craig Czerkies, who later confirmed his father sent the letter. Efforts on Monday to reach Ed Czerkies were not immediately successful.
Jim Smith, president of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, which governs the Rialto, said he talked Monday afternoon with Czerkies.
Czerkies confirmed to Smith that he sent the letter. While Czerkies is not happy with the situation, Smith said the deal to donate the money for the marquee is not dead.
“I asked him the question, 'Is this a dead deal?' He said no,” Smith said.
It was announced last month that Czerkies, retired from his construction business, would donate $350,000 to the Rialto to replace the historic building's aging marquee. But that announcement met with an online firestorm of criticism.
Much of the criticism was targeted at the new marquee design — which includes a digital display to showcase upcoming acts. Critics said it doesn't fit with the 88-year-old building's character. Others have concerns about the space devoted to honor the parents of the donor.
Smith said a slight redesign and modification has been done, and that Rialto General Manager Randy Green dropped off that design to Czerkies on Friday. Czerkies had not yet had a chance to look at it as of Monday, Smith said.
“It is very palatable, very respectful of his family,” Smith said. “It is more in terms of the font and script. It’s not as pronounced. It’s aesthetically pleasing.”
Czerkies wanted some assurances about the longevity of the sign, Smith said, and that his parents' names would be on the marquee.
“I personally just told Ed that the life of the sign should be no problem, with the memorialization,” Smith said. “[I asked] if we can get you that in black and white, can we still keep this deal alive? He said yes.”
When asked whether his father was withdrawing the funding, Craig Czerkies said “the letter is self explanatory,” and declined to comment further.
Last month’s marquee announcement led to online 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 before a Dec. 14 show.
The public reaction "was completely unexpected," Ed Czerkies wrote, noting that he's donated to several charitable organizations over the years and that “each of these investments have proven to be worthwhile and appreciated by those who received them.”
Smith said he believes the Rialto and the Czerkies family "can come to a mutually agreeable solution on the aesthetics, design and the longevity to the sign."
Smith added: “In my mind, he continues to be an open-minded, generous person who doesn’t deserve this level of acrimony."
• Herald-News Editor Kate Schott contributed to this report.