Study: Elmhurst can support $25 million performing arts center

Elmhurst and the surrounding area can support a 50,000-square-foot performing arts and conference center with an estimated $25 million price tag, according to a study released this week by the not-for-profit Elmhurst Centre for the Performing Arts.

Conducted by Chicago-based Johnson Consulting, the study suggests the proposed downtown building could house two theaters: a roughly 550-seat main facility with an orchestra pit and control room and a 130-seat "black box" convertible space.

Plans call for the center to also feature backstage areas, lobbies, administrative offices and classrooms for educational purposes and rental opportunities.

The $35,000 report, funded by the performing arts group and the city, says the center ultimately would create about 56 full-time jobs and generate roughly $809,000 in annual tax revenue.

In addition, the report indicates the average patron visiting the theater would spend $49.50 a night in restaurants, bars and stores - generating more than $7 million a year.

All that is good news for the fledgling group's board of directors, which has been working publicly for nearly 18 months to build support for a performing arts center.

"We're most thrilled that the project is financially feasible," board member Laura Michaud said Monday. "That was the big question we had to get answered."

The project's potential financial benefit to the city and surrounding area, as outlined in the study, also is key to building support, she said.

The $25 million price tag in 2018 dollars is substantial, organizers admit, but it's also comparable to how much the community spent for the public library in Wilder Park.

"It's not a crazy amount," Michaud said. "The $25 million doesn't scare me."

She said residents who support the concept expressed a desire for a main theater with between 300 and 1,000 seats. The 550 number, she said, provides a "sweet spot" in terms of financial viability: a 1,000-seat facility wouldn't be used enough and a 300-seat theater wouldn't generate enough income.

She said the study results will allow members of the Elmhurst Centre for the Performing Arts board to create a structure for moving forward to pursue funding options, create possible partnerships and identify potential downtown locations.

The city center location is key, both organizers and the study say, because of the availability of parking, the proximity of the Metra station and the number of restaurants and bars.

Jeff Budgell, chairman of the group's board of directors, says community support for a performing arts center "has been outstanding."

Organizers already have met with the city, park district and Elmhurst College, he said, and plan to host a community forum to have Johnson Consulting representatives explain the study results in detail.

Once that's done, supporters will meet with other civic groups across the city.

In the meantime, board members will focus on finding possible downtown sites and identifying funding sources - including potential grants.

With all the groundwork still ahead, supporters say it likely will be several years before the center becomes a reality.

But the effort will be worth it, Budgell said.

"There's a tremendous amount of (performing arts) talent in this city," he said, "but right now there's no place to show it."

  Elmhurst Centre for Performing Arts board Chairman Jeff Budgell and board member Laura Michaud are among those hoping to build a performing arts and conference center in downtown Elmhurst. DanielWhite/

By the numbers

Here are some highlights from the study conducted by Chicago-based Johnson Consulting for a possible $25 million, 50,000-square-foot downtown theater and conference facility for the Elmhurst Centre for Performing Arts:

550: Seats in the proposed main theater

130: Seats in the projected "black box" theater

56: Full-time jobs associated with the center

$809,000: Estimated annual tax revenue

28: Number of theater arts, dance and comedy groups in Elmhurst and the surrounding area that perform outside the city or in churches, schools and bars

2.5 million: Number of residents within a 30-minute drive of downtown Elmhurst

$100,000: Elmhurst's median household income

$49.50: Average amount spent by theater patrons per night on food, beverages and other items - generating a projected $7.8 million a year

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