JOLIET – Downtown Joliet was quiet Saturday morning, but inside the Rialto Square Theatre visitors shared equal parts optimism and amazement.
Newly appointed Rialto board members were touring the theater’s expansive property. It included the historic theater itself, inner workings of the facility the public has never seen and multiple floors of rental space – some in good condition, some dilapidated.
The special board meeting was designed as an orientation session for the seven new board members, appointed after the former board resigned Dec. 29.
Because it was an open meeting, 15 to 20 members of the public – many considered longtime patrons of the theater – were welcome to come along on the tour. It took about two hours and was followed by a question-and-answer session with the new board.
“We are in show business, but we’re also very much in the real estate business,” Interim Rialto Executive Director Timothy Berry said as the tour began.
During and after the tour, board members and the general public seemed equally optimistic for the theater’s future, despite a bevy of capital improvement projects that former building operations manager Mike Biedron pointed out as he anchored much of the tour. Then there’s the nearly $600,000 in outstanding bills as of December.
But the group appeared amazed at the current state of the theater property, in both good and bad ways.
Attendees marveled at the sheer artistry of the theater, the esplanade and the hundreds of acts who autographed walls of the green room and the stairway leading to the stage. Some took pictures and jotted down notes throughout the tour.
The exterior of the theater building needs work. The roof of one of the office buildings has about five years left, Biedron said. On the interior, most empty rental space is in poor condition and brings in no money.
But the 60 percent of space that is rented – mostly to law firms – is a source of revenue for the theater, Biedron said.
They also saw the limitations of the theater.
It has little storage space and room to move behind the curtains. This makes it near impossible to accommodate acts that use anything more than minimal stage equipment.
In November, “The Price is Right Live” nearly canceled because the famous wheel used on the show wasn’t going to make it through the door left of the stage, said Ed Rachel, president of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 124.
That door leads to an alley – often packed during shows – where equipment is brought to the stage. Rialto staff took every piece of metal they could off the doorway to get the wheel through, and the theater narrowly escaped a cancellation.
Only board members were able to see certain areas of the building, such as the boiler room.
After the tour, each board member was asked for their reactions.
“The two words that come to my mind are: enlightening and frightening,” Chairman Robert Filotto said.
“It’s a little overwhelming with all the repairs that are needed. I hope we can get a list so that we can prioritize how to tackle that going forward,” member Donnie Chestnutt said.
Member Joe Carlasare thanked Biedron for eight years of work at the Rialto.
“And especially for wanting to come back and explain [the property] to us,” he said. “We really need to rely on that institutional knowledge moving forward.”
Elwood resident Tom Howard criticized former leaders of the theater’s management team.
“I’m delighted with the conditions of the theater,” Howard said. “But I’m disgusted at so much empty space. … Get this place rented out and bring in some revenue.”