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Local News

Rialto Square Theatre funding a touchy subject at Joliet budget meeting

JOLIET – Funding for the Rialto Square Theatre became the big topic at the first City Council budget meeting Thursday, and it rubbed some the wrong way.

“It’s unfair – the position the city of Joliet has been put in,” Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said, giving a clear signal that getting Rialto funding for 2017 could be difficult.

The meeting included exchanges between O’Dekirk and Rialto board Chairman Dan Vera, with the mayor accusing Vera of telling him months ago that he did not care if the city continued funding. Vera disputed the characterization.

The Rialto wants $500,000 for 2017, but there is no money in the city budget for the theater.

That could change before the budget is approved, and several people speaking on behalf of the Rialto urged the council to support the theater. However, no one on the council called on the theater to add the money, and O’Dekirk expressed frustration with the number of people urging the city to spend the money.

“We’re on the same page,” O’Dekirk said. “But I am aggravated that, in the middle of November, all these people come to a meeting and lean on us to give money to a company we didn’t pick.”

O’Dekirk referred to VenuWorks, the management company hired by the Rialto to run the theater.

VenuWorks President Steve Peters led off the meeting with a presentation that showed the Rialto expected the theater would have a $500,000 deficit in 2017 without the city subsidy.

Peters later in the meeting, amid questions of whether the city should help fund the Rialto, said VenuWorks would not continue managing the theater if a solution was not found to a growing list of unpaid bills.

The current debt is expected to reach $675,000 by the end of the year, and Peters said VenuWorks is talking with the Rialto Square Theatre Foundation about a donation to pay it off.

VenuWorks came in Sept. 1 at a rate of $1 a month on a short-term arrangement, with expectations to enter a contract in January. Since then, the company has started an assessment of operations.

“We turned around to the foundation and said we can’t operate with this much debt,” Peters said. “We can’t assume a business deal with an operation that has this much debt.”

The discussion frequently revisited issues of the past year, including the Rialto’s refusal to let the city’s inspector general do an examination of theater operations. O’Dekirk said Vera knew that the Rialto’s position jeopardized future city funding.

“You said you didn’t care. You didn’t want the money,” O’Dekirk said to Vera.

Vera told O’Dekirk that he was only saying during the discussion that he understood the city’s position, but he was following advice of the Rialto’s attorney.

“I wasn’t flipping you off,” Vera said. “It wasn’t an affront to you.”

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