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posted: 8/6/2013 5:30 AM

West Dundee theater group's progress questioned

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  • A rendering of what the old Ziegler's Ace Hardware store in downtown West Dundee would look like if it's converted into the Fox Performing Arts Center.

    A rendering of what the old Ziegler's Ace Hardware store in downtown West Dundee would look like if it's converted into the Fox Performing Arts Center.
    Courtesy of Rick Browne


It could take another three years and roughly $3 million before Rick Browne's dream to convert an old hardware store into the Fox Performing Arts Center is realized.

Browne estimates he'll need two years to raise $2.2 million toward the construction efforts, rather than $1.8 million, and another $800,000 for operating costs. It would be another year before the center opened, he said. To date, Browne's group has raised about $225,000 in cash and pledges.

But several West Dundee trustees question whether the operation could sustain itself, how long the village will have to maintain the building before Browne takes over and whether the building is the proper venue for such an endeavor.

A pair of other trustees -- Daniel Wilbrandt and Tom Price -- appeared to be losing patience -- Browne first approached the village with the idea of turning it into a theater in 2010.

"Some of the concern is this seems to be taking a while, but this is new ground for us too," Price said.

The Fox Performing Arts Center would be a 258-seat venue Browne hopes attracts artistic talent from across the region and breathe new life into the downtown. West Dundee officials own the building and wanted to level it and turn it into a parking lot but instead decided to work with Browne.

Monday, Browne and Chris Adkins, vice president of the theater board, outlined the progress they've made over the year, which includes applying for nonprofit status, generating buzz by participating in community events and establishing a vision for how it will do business, work with the community and create programming.

The theater board also released the results of a study they authorized to determine the center's geographical user and donor bases in the Northwest suburbs. West Dundee-based American City Bureau conducted the study.

Trustees raised several questions about the study and its analysis was postponed until September, at which time a representative from ACB will explain how the company reached its conclusions.

If the theater operation went belly up, Trustee Patrick Hanley fears West Dundee would wind up subsidizing the venture, they way Elgin does with the Hemmens theater. He pointed to a study the village conducted that showed theaters in eight out of nine communities rely on government subsidies.

"What makes your group believe you can make a go of it without city funding?" Hanley asked. "You may be able to raise the $3 million in three years and get it done, but two-to-three years down the road, then what happens?"

Browne insists the support is in place to ensure that wouldn't happen. He also did an informal poll a year and a half ago in which eight groups expressed interest in using the future venue. If they sign on for three weeks, that's almost half a year of performances, coupled with children's programming that would be ongoing, Browne said.

"Theaters can make money," Browne said. "They can also operate inefficiently like any business, lose money and be funded elsewhere. It comes down to their model in their business."

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