JOLIET – Joliet City Manager Jim Hock introduced Tuesday night to the City Council a proposal and path for the city to take over the Rialto Square Theatre.
But not much was said Tuesday night about a timeline for the proposal, as the Rialto gets closer to the end of $1 a month interim contract with third-party manager VenuWorks, which was hired in August.
The interim contract was intended to give the Rialto’s legal counsel and VenuWorks time to negotiate a multiyear agreement during what was being deemed a “transition period.”
As it stands, funding for the Rialto is not in the city of Joliet’s proposed 2017 budget, a departure from precedent. VenuWorks has requested $500,000 for 2017 to help operate the theater, but was denied because city officials said they haven’t had access to the specifics of the Rialto’s financial situation.
Hock said that last week the Rialto presented the city with an intergovernmental agreement proposal, requesting the city commit to four years of funding.
Tuesday night, Hock proposed the city adopt a resolution asking state lawmakers to introduce legislation that transfers ownership of the Rialto and its properties from the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, commonly called the Rialto board, to the city.
State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, whose district includes the Rialto, said Wednesday a local problem calls for a local solution. He said his understanding is the Rialto made the pitch for an intergovernmental agreement in an attempt to answer the city’s concerns about the Rialto's financial transparency.
McGuire said he hopes the city will negotiate with the Rialto and reach an amended intergovernmental agreement to keep the Rialto open.
The Rialto’s proposal is an actual document both sides have access to, McGuire said, while the city’s proposal is an idea that could take months, of which the Rialto may not have many left.
“Revising the intergovernmental agreement so that it’s acceptable to both sides seems to be the shortest route to solve the crisis the Rialto faces,” McGuire said.
He noted the lengthy process required to get legislation through the state.
“I’m not sure,” Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said Wednesday when asked how long the city’s proposal could take to come to fruition. “But we’re trying hard to find a way through this. We’re trying to find an answer to the problem we have here.”
O’Dekirk said up until last week the conversation was whether or not the city would commit $500,000 to the Rialto in the coming year’s budget. Then the request for four years of funding came in.
“That was never even on the table before [last week],” O’Dekirk said.
O’Dekirk said he thinks the council is in agreement with Hock’s proposal and noted it was discussed in closed session Tuesday night with no opposition. He said Hock’s plan is a creative way to try to move the ball forward but did acknowledge a lot of details would need to be filled in.
O'Dekirk said the next step is to find out from state legislators what can or cannot be done regarding the state statute pertaining to the Rialto board's operation of the theater.
“We’ve given $18 million to the theater [over the years],” O’Dekirk said. “It’s obviously still facing the situation it’s in now. I think we’re looking at, how do we face the people of Joliet if we keep pouring money into this?”
Calls to Hock, Rialto board Chairman Dan Vera and State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr.’s office were not returned Wednesday.