JOLIET – Ed Czerkies said Friday he should have pulled his $350,000 donation from the Rialto Square Theatre long before this week.
Czerkies told Rialto officials Thursday he wanted his money back after the theater's governing board tabled a resolution that a dedication to his parents would stay on a new marquee for 25 years – the expected life of the sign.
"I think I let this go on too long," said the retired businessman, whose $350,000 donation for a new marquee was announced Nov. 24.
The unveiling of the marquee design ignited a resistance movement on social media as people criticized the modern lighting and the appearance of the dedication – "In memory of Michael and Mary Czerkies" – a tribute to Czerkies parents. Opponents also showed up at meetings of the Rialto board and Joliet City Council to urge that the design be scrapped.
Czerkies said he was frustrated Thursday after the Rialto board tabled the resolution that would have assured the tribute to his parents stayed on the sign. He did not see an end to the dispute over the marquee, he said.
"I should have terminated it before this. This went on and on and on," he said. "I had to establish a D-Day."
D-Day was Thursday, Czerkies said, and the Rialto board knew it.
Czerkies said in retrospect he should have pulled his donation even before Dec. 22, when he sent a letter to local media explaining the dedication to his parents and offering to take his money back if people did not want the dedication on the marquee.
Rialto Board Chairman James Smith said Friday he believed the theater would lose the money if the resolution was not passed and tried to convey that message to the board. It was never put in those terms, Smith said. But, he added, "it wasn't a news flash."
Smith said Czerkies made it clear he wanted the resolution passed by Thursday, which Smith said he took as a clear sign that the Rialto could lose the money.
The Rialto now needs to return Czerkies' $350,000 after having spent $118,000 already on the marquee construction. Rialto also will have to decide whether to move forward with the marquee and how to raise the money to finish the job.
"That's a problem they will have to address," Czerkies said. But he also said it's a problem the Rialto created by not assuring him that the original plan to keep a dedication to his parents on the marquee would be honored.
"I made a big commitment here," he said. "For them to drag their feet on this is wrong."