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updated: 6/24/2014 5:05 AM

Des Plaines Theatre owner to review 2 takeover pitches

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  • Two groups have expressed interest in either purchasing or managing the Des Plaines Theatre, which has been closed since January because of building code violations. The theater's owner will meet city officials Tuesday to discuss the proposals.

       Two groups have expressed interest in either purchasing or managing the Des Plaines Theatre, which has been closed since January because of building code violations. The theater's owner will meet city officials Tuesday to discuss the proposals.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer


The owner of the shuttered Des Plaines Theatre will meet with city officials today to review two proposals from those who may be interested in purchasing or managing the historic venue.

The city sent out a request for interest and qualifications document in May to potential theater owners and operators in an effort to reopen the 89-year-old theater, 1476 Miner St. The facility has been closed since Jan. 15 after theater owner Dhitu Bhagwakar failed to meet a city-imposed deadline to fix building code issues.

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Bhagwakar has ultimate veto power during negotiations and can decide to sell the theater, agree to have someone run the theater, or retain ownership and management of the theater himself.

He will meet with George Sakas, the city's director of community and economic development, and the city staff to discuss the two proposals received by a June 10 deadline.

"We would've liked to have gotten more (proposals), but we have two, and hopefully one of those is something he wants to do and the city can live with it, and we can move on from there," Sakas said.

One of the proposals was submitted by Jack Groat, an Elk Grove Village resident and owner of Bensenville-based Freight-Base Services, a trucking company. He said he used to work for a record company and has experience running plays, concerts and community events. He is an organizer of the Elk Grove Farmers Market and Little Boots Rodeo, a family festival held last weekend in Elk Grove.

"It kills me sometimes to see (the theater)," Groat said. "Every time I drive by and I cry. There's nobody there."

The name behind the second proposal was not disclosed.

Bhagwakar didn't respond to a request for comment Monday.

Groat said his plan for the theater includes development of a "community center" with concerts and other events.

"I'm a man with a vivid imagination," Groat said. "I know exactly what I want to do. The opening act would be a concert. I know exactly who I'm going to get. I'm going to blow this thing wide open."

Until the theater closed in January, it was host to film screenings, live theater and concerts. Bhagwakar purchased the building in 2003 from a bank that had sought to tear it down and build a drive-through. He's previously said he has spent more than $350,000 on renovations, which have included removal of a partition and drop ceiling, and restoration of many of the features of the original theater.

Groat said he's previously tried to persuade Bhagwakar to sell the theater to him, but to no avail.

"I brought out my checkbook and put it down and said, 'I'll write it down -- how much do you want? Give me an amount and I'll do it,'" Groat said.

"We just couldn't work it out."

Since the theater closed its doors earlier this year, Groat says he's been inside the building several times with contactors and appraisers who have given him price estimates to fix building code issues and complete other renovations. He said it would require an investment of his own money, but he's also hoping the city would provide funding from its downtown tax increment financing district, which keeps tax money above a certain amount that goes to local governments in order to fund redevelopment.

Some of the outstanding code issues include the absence of a fire-resistant curtain for live theater performances and a sprinkler system near the stage area.

"I just hope I have an opportunity. If not, I tried," Groat said. "This is something I would treasure."

Sakas said the future of the Des Plaines Theatre remains unclear. The first task is addressing building code issues, then trying to book shows to make money.

"The jury is still teetering on top of the wall -- is it going to be viable? Will it have the upfront investment and ongoing management or not?" Sakas said.

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