Des Plaines hopes to force sale of shuttered downtown theater
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Des Plaines will pursue eminent domain proceedings to forcibly acquire the 92-year-old Des Plaines Theatre, after the theater's owner says he rejected the city's "low ball" offer to buy it.
Both sides say they were negotiating in good faith over the last few months in hopes of reaching a fair price for the Art Deco-style building at 1476 Miner St.
But theater owner Dhitu Bhagwakar said Tuesday talks broke down after the city offered him $450,000. He cited an appraisal that valued the property at $2.3 million.
"There's no way I can accept that kind of offer," said Bhagwakar, who bought the theater in 2003 for $920,000.
Without offering specific numbers, city officials have said their initial offer also was based upon an appraisal. After Bhagwakar rejected it, the city council authorized the city's attorney to make a final offer in September.
On Monday night, aldermen agreed to begin condemnation proceedings against the theater -- a possibility city officials have suggested since talks of a city takeover surfaced last year.
Des Plaines officials see the theater as a key piece in their efforts to stimulate redevelopment in the downtown.
The city and Rivers Casino inked a nonbinding agreement in August in which both sides pledged to contribute $2 million to buy and renovate the theater, which has been closed since February 2014 due to building code violations. The Des Plaines-based casino has committed another $50,000 per year for five years for theater programming.
Under the city and casino's plan, officials would hire a manager to book shows and run day-to-day operations. So far, Ron Onesti of the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles has expressed interest.
Mayor Matt Bogusz proposed the public-private partnership last year amid a reelection campaign against Alderman Malcolm Chester, who initially questioned whether the city should get involved because of the costs.
Despite initial skepticism from Chester and others on the eight-member council, only Alderman Dick Sayad voted Monday against pursuing eminent domain.
Chester said what changed his mind was hearing from residents during the mayoral campaign who wanted the city to try to save the theater. And partnering with Rivers helps share the city's risk, Chester said.
"I've always believed at the end of the day we have to do something with the downtown. We have to take some kind of risk to try to revitalize it," Chester said. "You've got to try something. We just can't sit back and let it deteriorate to nothing."
Bogusz has said under the city's plan, the theater could be back open by 2020.
• Daily Herald staff writer Chacour Koop contributed to this report.