JOLIET – VenuWorks went to work Thursday, the first official day on the job for the third-party management company hired to run the Rialto Square Theatre.
In town and at the Rialto are Timothy Berry, the interim director of the Rialto, and John Siehl, chief operating officer for VenuWorks. More members of the transition team are coming next week.
Berry was impressed by what he saw – at least visually.
“The Rialto theater is gaga,” Berry said. “I think it’s a beautiful facility. It was described to me as a beautiful theater before I came here, but it exceeded my expectations.”
But looks aren’t everything.
It’s the Rialto’s financial struggles that prompted its board to contract with an outside management firm for the first time since the Will County Metropolitan Exposition Authority was created in 1978 to take over the previously privately owned theater.
The Rialto staff was put on part-time status last month so the theater could make payroll. That continues, at least for now, Siehl said.
“We’re still assessing that exact situation,” he said. “They’re working a very flexible schedule. We appreciate that. They’re working from 22 to 25 hours a week.”
But hopes are high for this next chapter of the Rialto’s history.
Both Siehl and VenuWorks President Steve Peters said they have received a warm reception meeting with community and business leaders the past two weeks.
“Everyone is very enthusiastic about the Rialto and what we bring there,” Peters said.
Peters said his biggest worry is that people will expect VenuWorks to immediately stage shows at the Rialto. VenuWorks expects to bring shows in the fourth quarter, but they are talking about two or three.
“It isn’t going to happen overnight,” Peters said.
Peters said the initial work at the Rialto “is all about assessment.”
Berry comes to the theater with a master’s degree in business administration. He has a background in management and event programming. He has managed venues in five different Midwestern cities, including Dodge City, Kansas, and Des Moines, Iowa.
But he is likely to be at the Rialto only through this year.
“I’m the interim director,” he said. “I’m the transition guy.”
VenuWorks expects to hire a permanent executive director in January.
Berry said he does believe the Rialto has a good future and not only because of its impressive looks.
“I think you’re seeing a trend away from the stadium shows to theaters like ours,” he said. “I think the inventory for programming now is pretty good.”
The new crew said they have had a good response from promoters, who may see some stability now at the Rialto.
“There’s a lot of promoter interest in the Rialto. That’s the good thing,” Peters said. “Some of them were promoting there and stepped back because of the uncertainty of what was going to happen.”