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updated: 11/13/2012 5:22 PM

Some groups relocate events because of Hemmens rental cost

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No exceptions.

That's what the Elgin City Council decided last year when they chose to turn the Hemmens Cultural Center into a rental facility and stop waiving fees for community groups holding events at the venue.

The change in rental policy started July 1, according to Butch Wilhelmi, director of the cultural center. Wilhelmi said The Hemmens used to open for city events a couple dozen times per year, whether that was for the police department to hold a landlord training session or the Pet Health and Safety Event started by Councilman John Prigge.

Now, regardless of the theme of the event, groups will have to pay rental fees for space at The Hemmens -- and multiple organizations have changed plans because of it.

Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said that's the only way the new policy can work.

"If you allow it for one group, you have to allow it for other groups," Kaptain said of waiving the fees. "How do you draw a line and select this group as eligible and say this one is not?"

Jeff Turner, owner of In the Neighborhood Deli, organized his first community Thanksgiving meal four years ago. Since then he has held one every year and added a Have a Heart dinner each February. The meals have always been served in the basement of The Hemmens at no charge. This year, Turner would have had to pay about $2,500 for the space, doubling the cost of putting on the holiday meal.

The charge includes the tables and chairs, the labor involved with opening up the building and rental of the space itself, according to Wilhelmi, who noted it is more expensive to rent on a holiday because employees must be paid time-and-a-half.

The decision to change The Hemmens into a rental-only operation came in hopes of making more money. The city's subsidy to keep the cultural center operating was nearing $1 million per year before the switch. But even now, The Hemmens will still need the city's help.

"We're not going to run in the black," Wilhelmi said. "If we were charging the rates that we need in order to cover our expenses, no one would be able to afford us."

Elgin's First United Methodist Church stepped up to the plate for the Thanksgiving meal, offering its basement for free. The church will be able to seat the same number of people as The Hemmens and though its kitchen isn't quite as "state of the art" as the city's, Turner said it will certainly work.

The Second Baptist Church will do the same thing for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration -- offering a more cost-effective location for the city-sponsored event, which has taken place the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day for close to 30 years.

Shaan Jones is the chairman of the MLK Day planning committee through Elgin's Human Relations Commission. He said the move is a better fit for the program and will not require organizers to turn anyone away because of space.

"It's just a way of changing things up," Jones said. "We still have the full support of the city. It's still city-sponsored and funded."

Wilhelmi said since July 1 The Hemmens has scheduled more than a dozen first-time renters. Now it will never have to turn away potential customers because the space is booked by groups using the cultural center for free.

And plenty of long-standing events will still be held at The Hemmens as their organizers find money for the extra overhead. The latest Pet Health and Safety Event is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday in the lower level of The Hemmens. Waste Management is sponsoring the event and covering the rental fee.

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