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Local News

Rialto chairman addresses move to forego $350K donation

Marquee may go back to Zoning Board

The marquee of the Rialto is seen in November. Donations to replace the marquee have caused controversy in the community.
The marquee of the Rialto is seen in November. Donations to replace the marquee have caused controversy in the community.

JOLIET – Rialto officials were faced with a “damned if we do and damned if we don’t” situation when contemplating a second $350,000 offer to pay for a future marquee, Board Chairman James Smith said Thursday.

Businessman Jay Bergman had offered to give the Rialto $350,000 to go forward with a previously designed marquee largely as is, but without a personal tribute added to the sign, which seemed to stir most of the controversy.

But even those changes might require the marquee proposal to go through the Joliet Zoning Board of Appeals and Historic Preservation Commission, Smith said.

Bergman, who proposed the donation in an attempt to end the ongoing marquee controversy, dropped his offer when Rialto officials wanted more time and it was apparent the issue was not going away soon.

On Wednesday, the day Bergman had planned to present the Rialto with a $350,000 check, the theater board created a 12-member committee to come up with a solution to the marquee problem, which it hopes to have by late March.

Bergman proposed his contribution after previous donor Ed Czerkies pulled a $350,000 donation amid an ongoing controversy over a tribute Czerkies wanted to his late parents on the marquee.

“Because the Czerkies’ sign specifically was approved by the Zoning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission, we’re told that any new sign might require us to go through the Zoning Board and Historic Preservation Commission,” Smith said.

The Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, the board that oversees the Rialto, previously was criticized for not giving the public sufficient notice about its plans for the new marquee. Many critics want the new marquee to look like the existing marquee, which would mean scrapping the design Bergman offered to pay for.

“We were damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” Smith said.

Bergman has said his offer was aimed at ending the controversy and he is not likely to reconsider a $350,000 donation at a later date.

On Wednesday, Bergman issued a statement explaining his decision.

“The marquee controversy has become very divisive for the city and has created more hostility than I have seen in Joliet for many years,” Bergman said. “The No. 1 reason for my donation was to get this controversy over with as quickly as possible.”

Bergman said he would pay for the marquee already in production. In place of the tribute to Czerkies’ parents, the sign would carry the words “The Jewel of Joliet,” “Rialto” and “Established 1926.”

Rialto General Manger Randy Green said at the board meeting Wednesday that Czerkies has not yet received his money back, but theater officials are “working on it.”

He also said about $197,000 worth of work was done on the marquee, which was 75 percent completed before production was stopped. The theater has paid $120,000 so far.

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