JOLIET – Jack Ericksen had just been appointed interim general manager of the Rialto Square Theatre on Monday and was asked if the theater will stay open.
"Without question," Ericksen said.
Asked about the Rialto finances, however, Ericksen said he had little to do with that, but still expressed confidence in the future.
"I've lived in Joliet my whole life," said Ericksen, who until Monday was the theater's director of development. "I can't imagine Joliet without the Rialto. If I have anything to do with it, the Rialto will stay here."
Ericksen was named to the post after the Rialto board voted unanimously to place General Manager Randy Green on paid leave.
Green will continue to receive his regular pay at a salary of $142,000 a year with benefits, as the Rialto continues to attempt to negotiate a separation agreement. Board attorney David Silverman asked the board for another two weeks to negotiate an agreement. The board meets again April 6.
Ericksen will fill in at the same pay – $68,000 a year – at which he was hired in December.
Ericksen was hired at a time when the Rialto had already begun to postpone payments on payroll taxes, a situation that eventually led to Green's removal.
What comes next for the Rialto is unclear.
The Rialto board Monday also hired Theobald Associates, a Joliet accounting firm headed by Donald Theobald, to do a review of theater finances.
The outlook is unclear enough that Rialto board Chairman Dan Vera said he would not discuss the financial condition of the theater until Theobald Associates completes its review.
"There have been a number of numbers thrown out there," Vera said. "That's why we're going to hire Mr. Theobald."
Theobald was hired at the rate of $275 an hour, and Vera has the task of controlling the number of hours he works.
Vera previously said the Rialto owed about $123,000 in payroll taxes. According to Joliet city officials last week, the Rialto also owed $395,000 to vendors, although it was not clear how much of that was to be paid when future shows are held.
The shows will go on, Ericksen said.
"We don't see anything affecting the shows we have currently," he said.
Help from Joliet?
The management shakeup comes while city officials have been going over Rialto financial records, trying to get a grasp of the theater's financial condition.
The city has a big stake in the Rialto's budget, with an annual $600,000 contribution.
The money comes in quarterly installments, and City Council members last week said they were reluctant to send more money while Green was general manager. Some suggested they wanted the city's new inspector general to examine the Rialto as well.
City officials had already advanced $10,000 from the second-quarter installment to help the Rialto with late payroll taxes owed to the state. But when the council met March 14, members balked at the idea of sending the other $140,000 from the quarterly payment to cover the late federal payroll taxes.
Councilwoman Bettye Gavin suggested sending the inspector general to the Rialto, something city officials already were considering before the meeting.
"We are constantly trying to keep them afloat," Gavin said. "This is egregious. This has no integrity behind it. I think we need to keep a tight control on this."
The city contribution is a big chunk of Rialto revenues, which totaled $3.56 million in the fiscal year that ended in June 2014.
Mayor Bob O'Dekirk said last week that the city may have to raise its stake in the Rialto to keep the theater going, but not before having a clearer picture of the financial condition.
It's also not clear how much good it will do for the city to advance money.
In June, the city gave the Rialto a $300,000 advance on the second half of the city's annual contribution because the theater's cash flow had deteriorated to the point that it could not pay the gas bill.
In late September, the Rialto reported a cash balance of $364,000, and Green said he was "pretty confident" the theater had stabilized its finances. By November, however, the Rialto was skipping payments on payroll taxes.
No one at the City Council meeting last week said the Rialto should close. But Councilman Jim McFarland raised the possibility.
"If they're not going to make payments, are we not going to have to close the Rialto doors?" he asked. No one answered.
The Rialto is planning to celebrate its 90th anniversary in May.
Ericksen, in his job as a fundraiser for the theater, has been preparing for that anniversary, developing programs and events aimed at exploring the Rialto's history and bringing in more money.
His main job now is to manage day-to-day operations at the Rialto.
Before coming to the theater, Ericksen had been senior development director for Catholic Charities of Joliet. It's a line of work he plans to get back to – at the Rialto.
Ericksen said he does not plan on seeking the general manager job once the Rialto resolves the situation with Green.
"I don't have any interest in that," he said. "My interest is really in development."