Robert Filotto last week was the first person to be appointed to the board of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, which oversees the Rialto Square Theatre, since the entire board resigned on Dec. 29. Filotto is one of three appointees in the hands of the governor. Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk has four appointments that he plans to make on Jan. 17.
Filotto previously served on Rialto boards from 1988 to 1996. He is a certified public accountant and owner of Filotto Professional Services in Joliet. He has previous experience as chief executive officer with two local companies, Kinetic Systems in Lockport and UIC Inc. in Joliet.
Okon: Tell me about your previous experience on the Rialto board.
Filotto: I joined the Rialto Square Theatre board in 1988. The Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority was formed in 1978. ... The authority had responsibility for everything – real estate and the theater. In 1988, a Rialto Square Theatre board was formed solely to be responsible for the theater. That’s when I got involved. In 1993, I was appointed to the authority by then-Gov. Jim Edgar to replace Joe Mikan. I served on the authority until my resignation in 1996.
Okon: Was funding from the city of Joliet an issue then?
Filotto: In some ways, it was very similar to today in terms of funding. There was an intergovernmental agreement in place that involved a $250,000 annual grant from the city in support of theater operations. The same concerns were expressed then. I can remember meeting after meeting with Bob Fraser (former city finance director) and John Mezera (former city manager). In the end, the city supported us.
... It’s always been a topic of discussion. Because the Rialto is such a high-profile entity, every year it would come up for discussion – even back then.
I don’t think what’s happening today is a reflection of this city council and this mayor. And, it’s not bad. It’s good, open discussion.
Okon: Why did you want to be on the Rialto board again given the current problems?
Filotto: I was ready to jump back in. I already had a history with the Rialto. Part of my history is I worked with a company in Lockport called Kinetic Systems. We had customers and an office in Europe. I used to travel to Europe quite often. I had the opportunity to see the Rialtos of Europe, which was really cool. When people visited here – our clients and employees visited here – I took them to the Rialto.
They were astounded that there was a palace, a theater, like that in Joliet, Illinois. I don’t know if you ever had an opportunity to visit Versailles. But when you walk into the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, it’s just like you’re walking into the esplanade at the Rialto. It’s scary. (The Rialto esplanade was modeled after the Hall of Mirrors at the French palace.) I guess the Rialto has been very much in my heart for a long time.
... I think it (coming onto the Rialto board now) represents an opportunity. I have gotten such an outpouring of comments – 99.9 percent are positive. I have gotten over 300 Facebook comments. It’s unbelievable. I’m not going to criticize the previous boards – any of them. Until you’ve sat in that seat, you can’t be critical. I know most of those people, and they are good people. But I think the entire board resigning represents an opportunity to rebuild a trust and not only with theater sponsors and the citizens of Joliet. It lets us start with a clean slate and rebuild that love for the Rialto.
Okon: Where did you grow up?
Filotto: I was born and raised on a dairy farm at Airport Road and Weber Road in Romeoville. When I was a kid, that (Weber Road) was a two-lane gravel road. My grandfather on my dad’s side came over from Italy in 1916 and got involved working with Texaco (the old Lockport refinery). He purchased some farms in the ’30s. One of those was an 80-acre piece that’s on the Lewis University Airport runway that extends across Airport Road (the section now shut down).
... I went across the road to Lewis University for my undergrad. My B.A. is in accounting. I had a little Honda 450 that I drove right down the runway. I parked it and went onto campus. I lived on the 80 acres that was right across the road from the airport.