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Local News

Joliet city manager proposes Rialto takeover

State lawmakers would have to sign off on ownership transfer

The Rialto Square Theatre is seen in January in Joliet. City Manager Jim Hock proposed Tuesday a plan for the city to take control of the theater.
The Rialto Square Theatre is seen in January in Joliet. City Manager Jim Hock proposed Tuesday a plan for the city to take control of the theater.

JOLIET – The city of Joliet has outlined a proposal to take control of the Rialto Square Theatre.

Toward the end of the City Council meeting Tuesday night, Joliet City Manager Jim Hock began speaking on the topic by listing the Rialto’s latest financial troubles, throughout which he said the city met an ongoing mantra – save the Rialto.

These instances included paying off the Rialto's unpaid payroll taxes in April and paying two scheduled performers directly so the Rialto wouldn't be forced to cancel shows.

Hock said the Rialto board selected in August an outside company, VenuWorks, to manage the theater, knowing its proposed operational model had an annual deficit.

Before Hock presented a proposed Joliet budget to the council Nov. 1, VenuWorks sent a letter requesting $500,000 from the city, he said. The city's current proposed budget does not include any Rialto funding.

Finally, Hock said Tuesday night that last week Rialto officials came to the city with a proposed intergovernmental agreement requesting the city commit funding for four years.

“I have a proposal that I’d like to talk to you about considering how the city can again save the Rialto,” Hock said to the council.

Hock proposed the city adopt a resolution asking state lawmakers to introduce legislation that transfers ownership of the Rialto and its properties to the city.

“The city will sell the office buildings that aren't part of the theater to the private sector, will pay off all the bills the Rialto board has approved for payment but have not paid, and will assume the renovation loan obligation of approximately $2.4 million,” Hock said.

Hock also proposed the city manage non-concert events such as weddings and recitals and enter into contracts with Harrah’s and other entertainment vendors to put on concerts and performances. The city would also include the Rialto building in its engineering consultant facilities evaluation contract to evaluate the physical condition of the property.

“This proposal to me seems like a natural progression of the commitment the city has made to the downtown,” Hock said. “We own the baseball stadium, the building in right field, Union Station, soon a new train station, a new bus station, along with a historical museum. If the city is going to move forward with investments to implement the downtown plan, we have to assure that concerts and other performances are scheduled at the Rialto.”

“This is not a proposal for this year or the next four years, but forever,” Hock said.

No action was taken Tuesday night regarding the Rialto, and neither the councilmen nor Mayor Bob O'Dekirk commented publicly on Hock's proposal. Councilman Mike Turk asked for the council to go into closed session after the public meeting.

Rialto board member Mary Babich addressed the council in the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting.

Babich asked the city to give the Rialto the money it requested for operations. She asked the city to contribute motel-hotel taxes to support the Rialto and restaurants in town.

“It’s the jewel of Joliet, the most beautiful theater in the world,” Babich said, asking the city to allow the Rialto to work with VenuWorks to move on.

Babich said she’s against the proposal Hock outlined Tuesday night.

Resident Robert Hernandez said he opposed the city purchasing Silver Cross Field and a water park in the past, but said Hock’s proposal is outstanding and should be given consideration.

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