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updated: 8/30/2012 2:56 PM

Elgin mayor seeks decision on Hemmens future

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  • Elgin City Council members must decide what to do with The Hemmens Cultural Center, which has been in need of renovations for years. A partnership with the Grand Victoria Casino to build a new entertainment venue seems to have disappeared, leaving the council to decide how much city money to spend on fixing up the Hemmens.

       Elgin City Council members must decide what to do with The Hemmens Cultural Center, which has been in need of renovations for years. A partnership with the Grand Victoria Casino to build a new entertainment venue seems to have disappeared, leaving the council to decide how much city money to spend on fixing up the Hemmens.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 

The city of Elgin partnered with the Grand Victoria Casino over the winter to explore collaborating on a downtown entertainment venue, and the Grand Victoria paid for a consultant to analyze whether there was a market for a bigger hall to replace The Hemmens Cultural Center.

The study is in, and now casino management has backed away from the partnership and city council members are left with what the mayor calls "deferred maintenance" -- procrastination on building renovations at the Hemmens that has been going on for years.

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"And I was part of that," Mayor David Kaptain said. "Well, now it's time to talk about it."

Unlike a 2006 study that said the city could support a 2,000-seat venue, the latest consultant pointed out that most concert halls in similar areas seat 1,500.

The mayor questions whether it would be worth the millions of dollars in renovations for just 300 more seats than The Hemmens already has.

And if the Grand Victoria will not pool its money with the city, Kaptain doesn't see why the city should continue looking into an entirely new building near the casino.

"All our options are now open," Kaptain said.

Representatives of the Grand Victoria would not comment on partnering with the city for an entertainment venue.

Kaptain said the instability at the state level when it comes to gambling expansion probably made casino managers uncomfortable moving forward with the investment.

Now Kaptain said he will remain firm on pushing the council to make a decision about the Hemmens' future soon.

There's no doubt that the maintenance bill on the Hemmens will far exceed the $56,000 the council recently debated for repairs to the Eastside Recreation Center.

Councilman John Prigge voted against that request for additional funding based on surprise soil conditions uncovered during renovations to the building. Prigge has voted against similar funding requests for the rec center since the council approved accepting a grant to cover most of the $2.5 million project.

"I'm operating, at least financially, in crisis mode right now because of this economy," Prigge said.

In July The Hemmens changed its business model to one of a rental facility with no city-sponsored general season programming. That is expected to dramatically reduce the operating subsidies needed from the city, but Prigge said the economy could still doom the building if no one rents it. He said his same concerns over putting money into the Eastside Recreation Center apply to The Hemmens as well.

Kaptain said waiting for the economy to rebound is not an option.

"You can only do deferred maintenance so long and the building falls down," he said.

The council's discussion about the building is expected during this year's budget talks, which are set to start in October.

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