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updated: 3/23/2014 6:57 AM

Des Plaines will solicit possible operators for historic theater

Des Plaines to solicit proposals to try and reopen closed venue

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  • Video: The Des Plaines Theatre

  • Des Plaines Theatre owner Dhitu Bhagwakar says he's willing to entertain a variety of options regarding the future of the theater, including working with someone who could operate the venue.

       Des Plaines Theatre owner Dhitu Bhagwakar says he's willing to entertain a variety of options regarding the future of the theater, including working with someone who could operate the venue.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • The city of Des Plaines is expected to send out a request for proposals to those who may be interested in operating or purchasing the now-shuttered Des Plaines Theatre.

       The city of Des Plaines is expected to send out a request for proposals to those who may be interested in operating or purchasing the now-shuttered Des Plaines Theatre.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • A portion of the Des Plaines Theatre's ceiling near the stage area collapsed last year and cost about $70,000 to repair.

       A portion of the Des Plaines Theatre's ceiling near the stage area collapsed last year and cost about $70,000 to repair.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Des Plaines Theatre owner Dhitu Bhagwakar stands on the theater's stage, where city officials want a fire-resistant curtain and sprinkler system installed.

       Des Plaines Theatre owner Dhitu Bhagwakar stands on the theater's stage, where city officials want a fire-resistant curtain and sprinkler system installed.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • This is the lobby of the shuttered Des Plaines Theatre.

       This is the lobby of the shuttered Des Plaines Theatre.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • This is the exterior of the Des Plaines Theatre, which is currently closed. The owner is working to resolve code violations and hopes to reopen soon.

       This is the exterior of the Des Plaines Theatre, which is currently closed. The owner is working to resolve code violations and hopes to reopen soon.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 

The future of the Des Plaines Theatre could be determined over the course of the next several weeks, when city officials and the theater's current owner will be looking for someone who may be interested in running the historic showplace.

The city is expected to release a request for proposals that would not only solicit potential operators, but also those who may want to purchase the 89-year-old downtown building.

The theater at 1476 Miner St. has been in limbo since Jan. 15, when owner Dhitu Bhagwakar failed to meet a city-imposed deadline to fix building code issues, such as the lack of a fire-resistant curtain for live theater performances and a sprinkler system near the stage area. The abrupt closing left organizers with scheduled events scrambling to find alternate venues, including The Silent Film Society of Chicago, which moved its "Buster Keaton Weekend" March 7-9 across the street to the Leela Arts Center.

City officials have suggested that sending a request for proposals to prospective operators or owners could result in ideas, expertise or funding, and help make the theater an economically viable venue.

Bhagwakar, as the theater's owner, would have ultimate veto power about whether to move forward with any proposal received.

"As long as the theater is run right and everybody is happy, I'm open to several different options," he said.

George Sakas, the city's director of community and economic development, said his staff is putting together a list of contacts in the theater business who might be interested in the Des Plaines Theatre. But at the same time, Sakas said the city is also open to "anything anyone is willing to offer."

"It should go to as big an audience as possible because someone might have a feasible use for it that we haven't thought of. It's the ingenuity of the marketplace," Sakas said. "If we have five feasible proposals, then we have a lot to think about. If we don't have any, then maybe we go back to the drawing board. The heavy lifting will be when we have real world proposals and real world plans."

Bhagwakar is anxious to get the theater back open. He says he's received several inquiries from organizers who want to host shows there, but he's had to turn them down.

"I hope to find some solution and open the theater as soon as possible. When it stays closed, it's bad for the theater, the city, and everyone," Bhagwakar said. "I feel bad for people going to other places since we have this theater."

The venue hosted a variety of events, from film screenings to live stage performances.

The theater, originally built in 1925 as a vaudeville house, was purchased by Bhagwakar in 2003 from a bank that had sought to tear the building down and build a drive-through.

The theater became a destination for Bollywood films, shown on two separate screens that had been in place since the 1980s. Renovations in 2010 included removal of a partition and drop ceiling, and restoration of many of the features of the original theater.

"We tried to bring it back to what it was," Bhagwakar said.

The city council agreed in January 2013 to extend deadlines for fixing outstanding code issues to Jan. 15, 2014. At the time, Bhagwakar told aldermen it was a "realistic timeline."

But he now says he was delayed after a portion of the ceiling near the stage area collapsed last year, costing $70,000 to repair, and closing the theater for six months.

"It set us back," Bhagwakar said. "It put us in a big financial setback."

He estimates he's spent more than $350,000 on renovations since purchasing the theater, and he said he's willing to fix the remaining code issues "if the financials will allow."

So far, that hasn't been the case.

"If they want it, I have no problem," he said. "Anything with public safety, I'm with them."

Aldermen are expected to review the draft request for proposals over the course of the next week, and after providing their input, the document is expected to be sent out.

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