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posted: 8/13/2013 5:30 AM

Wheaton Grand owners, architect say they need more space

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  • Supporters say with two building additions and a ramped-up fundraising drive, a renovated Wheaton Grand Theater could be open in 2015.

      Supporters say with two building additions and a ramped-up fundraising drive, a renovated Wheaton Grand Theater could be open in 2015.
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Supporters of the long-vacant Wheaton Grand Theater say the "Miracle on Hale" -- the eventual renovation and reopening of the historic theater at 123 N. Hale -- could be less than two years and $5 million away.

But first, they're going to need some help from city hall.

The theater's new owner Jim Allen, architect Steve Kolber and lead supporter Rick Erickson updated city council members Monday on their fundraising and renovation plans. But for any plans to move forward, they say they need the city to sell or deed them some land.

"We really scaled this back to something that is within reach so we can make it happen," Kolber said. "What we want to do is try to accommodate the needs of the theater within the existing footprint as much as possible. But there's two areas we need to expand to make the theater work."

Kolber proposed building a two-story addition off the rear of the building on the site currently housing eight parking spaces next to the Wheaton Masonic Center.

"We need to have an area for dressing rooms, a green room and preparation for productions," Kolber said.

The second, smaller addition, is proposed for the front of the theater.

"We'd like to fill in what is under the marque now," Kolber said. "This gives us a good vestibule into the theater and it expands the lobby. Those 676 people looking to get their cocktails at intermission need a place to go."

Before either of those proposals can go forward, theater officials hoped to gauge whether the council was open to either or both plans.

"For me, as the architect, to start developing plans for pieces of property we have no way of touching, we're running in circles at that point," Kolber said. "We want to make it very clear that for this to be successful, these two pieces are a big part of it."

City Manager Don Rose, however, said there are a bevy of factors council members would need to consider, especially the pending Central Area Planning Process report that is expected to "make a lot of parking disappear" if certain development aspects of the plan are pursued.

"The bottom line is certainly the eight parking spaces isn't any big thing but if all of a sudden, through some of the streetscape plans you lose another 15 or 20, it's a catch 22," Rose said. "(Theater officials) hope to bring a good number of people into the downtown, especially on weekends. The parking garages are already pretty full on Friday and Saturday nights to then we have huge parking issues."

Despite that, a number of council members indicated they would be willing to work with the theater group to move the plan forward.

"I really think this is a great project, and I think it still would be a key to downtown and really revitalizing Wheaton," said Councilman Todd Scalzo.

Councilman John Prendiville agreed.

"I'm in favor of helping the theater any way we can as long as it makes sense to the city," he said. "I certainly hope we can work together, and they get their financial house in order and we can move forward."

Erickson said fundraising efforts have not gone as well as expected, leading to the $100,000 raffle ticket goal being extended to November.

"It's not going great, but that's only because we haven't really started our push," he said. "Once we know there's a chance for this plan to work, we'll kick it into high gear and start promoting our vision."

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