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Local News

Rialto Square Theatre plans to pursue taxing power

Rialto Square Theatre in downtown Joliet.
Rialto Square Theatre in downtown Joliet.

JOLIET – The Rialto Square Theatre board plans to seek taxing powers from the state Legislature in coming months.

Board members on Wednesday discussed the prospects of getting a law passed in the upcoming spring legislative session that would authorize the Rialto to levy either a property tax or a food and beverage tax. The tax would be countywide.

“A tax for our needs would be minuscule when spread over the whole county,” said board member Thomas Osterberger, although he and other board members acknowledged that a Rialto tax might face political resistance.

The board has not identified how large a tax it would pursue. The Rialto is looking for ways to pay for long-term building maintenance projected to cost between $8 million and $10 million during the next 10 years.

“This would be a true dedicated funding source where we could levy and collect taxes like the Springfield civic center authority,” board member Joe Carlasare said.

Carlasare pointed to the Springfield civic center authority, which levies a property tax. Board members also said they would consider a food and beverage tax, such as the one levied by another civic center authority in Boone County.

Board Chairman Robert Filotto said after the meeting he expected a decision on whether to pursue a tax would be made in the next two to three months, and Rialto officials in the meantime will discuss the prospects with local state legislators.

The Rialto is governed by the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, which is commonly called the Rialto board but is a civic center authority that was created by state law in 1983 when the theater and adjacent office buildings were acquired from private owners of the property.

The theater never was given taxing authority, although the city of Joliet initiated a hotel tax to help fund the Rialto. The hotel tax money was not exclusively designated to the Rialto.

The city now provides the Rialto with $500,000 in annual support out of its general revenue.

The Joliet contribution is used to cover the Rialto’s operational budget deficits. The deficit this year is projected at $488,000, which would be covered by the city funds.

City officials in recent years have urged the Rialto to find additional funding sources to make the theater less dependent on city support. The $500,000 contribution this year came with the condition that the Rialto develop a long-term plan for funding building repairs.

Board members for several months have been talking to other local governments, including Will County and Joliet Township, in search of funding.

Board member Donnie Chestnutt said Will County has asked that the Rialto prepare a presentation for County Board members before the funding request could be considered.

“Eighty percent of the ticket purchases are coming from outside Joliet,” Chestnutt said. “That leads us to approach the county for some assistance.”

Board members also have pursued the possibility of federal grants, which board Vice Chairman Jeff Pierson said “seems to be a dead end.”

“I don’t think that’s going anywhere,” Pierson said.

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