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Local News

Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet makes some strides, has big steps to take

JOLIET – It was a wild week for the Rialto Square Theatre, which faces more uncertainty ahead.

Some questions and concerns did get settled – which, in turn, opened the door to how Rialto leadership will stabilize the theater’s finances and brighten its outlook.

Here’s what got settled:

• Randy Green was removed as general manager when the Rialto board approved a separation agreement first considered more than three weeks ago as the theater’s late payments on payroll taxes became known.

• The City Council rejected an intergovernmental agreement, which the Rialto board may not have accepted anyway, thus ending the prospect, for now, of a city inspector general investigation into theater operations and finances.

• The Rialto staged two shows with Pauly Shore and Jeff Foxworthy turning out large audiences, thanks to the city putting up guarantees that the performers will get paid.

Among what is not settled:

• Who replaces Green, and how does the Rialto pay for a general manager with the theater’s financial struggles?

• What’s next in the Rialto’s relationship with City Hall, which provides $600,000 in annual funding and helped the theater through its recent financial peril?

• When will the Rialto begin booking shows again, as theatergoers look at a fall schedule that right now promises only four performances?

Randy Green and the next GM

Rialto officials emphasized last week that they will not use city money to pay out the $35,000 needed for Green’s separation agreement, something demanded by city officials.

Theater management plans to meet with representatives from the Rialto Square Theater Foundation to see what money the foundation can provide.

“I’m certain we’ll be having a conversation soon about how we can help,” foundation board President Tricia Simpson said.

The foundation is known to have a large endowment. But the endowment is not a bank account.

“That’s really off the table completely,” Simpson said, noting that the terms of the endowment restrict its use, and limited funds can be used for programming.

Separately, she said, the foundation continuously raises money for operations and programming.

“I’m sure that those funds will be part of the settlement solution,” Simpson said.

Rialto Finance Manager Dale Evans, in a report to the Rialto board’s Finance Committee, said there was $45,000 in a checking account with money supplied by the foundation as of early last week. That and another $35,000 in a separate checking account was all the cash available, he said. The Rialto has more than $400,000 in bills to pay.

Rialto-city partnership

“I don’t want any of my tax dollars going to the Rialto theater anymore,” Joliet resident Ron Gruber told the Rialto board at its meeting last week. “You’re bankrupt. Why should the city of Joliet bail you out?”

Gruber was just one person. Many Joliet residents still wince at the thought that the beloved Rialto was slated for demolition in the late 1970s before it was saved by the creation of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority – commonly known as the Rialto board – that always has relied on city support.

But the relationship between the theater and city has become so strained that even longtime Rialto booster and City Councilwoman Jan Quillman is talking about no more bailouts.

“I agree that the Rialto is essential to the future of downtown Joliet,” Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said.

But O’Dekirk also said the City Council may not give any more money unless the city is allowed to do its own investigation of the theater’s finances and operations.

Booking shows

“We’re not booking anything new until we see where we’re at,” Interim General Manager Jack Ericksen told the Rialto board last week.

Ericksen said Friday the plan now is to put booking on hold until a new general manager is hired. If that process takes too long, booking could start sooner, he said.

Ericksen, who was hired in December to do fundraising for the theater, does not plan to seek the general manager job.

Booking shows could be complicated by the Rialto’s financial problems. The city already has had to step in to guarantee performers will be paid, and it’s not clear how long the city will do that.

But there may be other options.

Evans said in his presentation to the Finance Committee last week that one promoter has discussed the possibility of providing acts if ticket sales for those shows are put into an escrow account that guarantees the availability of the money.

In his presentation, Evans included a history of Rialto finances showing a long track record of making ends meet and struggling to pay bills.

“It’s always been a challenge,” Evans said afterward. “It’s nothing new. We’ve done the best we can with what’s available.”

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