Aldermen to discuss Des Plaines Theatre code issues

Updated 1/14/2013 11:26 AM
  • Des Plaines alderman next week will discuss whether to give operators of the Des Plaines Theater another six months to address numerous code violations that, if not fixed, could force the historic facility to close.

      Des Plaines alderman next week will discuss whether to give operators of the Des Plaines Theater another six months to address numerous code violations that, if not fixed, could force the historic facility to close. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

The Des Plaines city council next week will discuss code compliance issues at the Des Plaines Theatre that could threaten its continued operation.

The city's building code committee last week recommended that the city council give the theater a six-month extension on its temporary occupancy permit so its operators could address problems such as its curtain not being fire resistant, the lack of a sprinkler system by the stage area, and issues with the boiler room and furnace room, among other concerns.

"The committee is going to ask staff to make up a resolution that would extend all of the timelines on all that the theater has to do by six months," committee Chairman Mike Charewicz said.

City officials have been working with the theater owner over the last two years to bring the 87-year-old facility at 1476 Miner St. under compliance and keep it operating.

"The theater has a long, rich history," City Manager Mike Bartholomew said at the committee meeting.

The historic theater was originally built in 1925 as a vaudeville house. By 2010, the theater was predominantly showing foreign films. It reopened in November 2011 after nearly two years of extensive renovations.

City code and fire inspectors, as well as the state fire marshal's office, have conducted a number of inspections of the building, identifying issues that needed to be brought up to code if the facility was to be used for live audience performances.

"The owner of the property worked for compliance to make a lot of those corrections," Bartholomew said. "They engaged an architect who has been a great asset to the theater. We worked on a compliance plan that would span until this time ... most of those dates they met, and they did the correction and continued to occupy. They have made a great deal of improvement."

However, "items that were expected to be in compliance by Dec. 15, 2012, have not been completed," Bartholomew added.

The theater's new general manager, Tony LaBarbera, asked committee members to consider giving the owner more time to fix those problems.

LaBarbera said since joining the operation in October, he has brought 22 different shows to the theater, including a mix of musical presentations, community events, weddings, benefits, and English specialty and holiday movies, typically drawing between 100 and 250 people.

"The Des Plaines Theatre should be and continue to be the heart and soul of downtown Des Plaines," he said. "It's a community asset and resource. I've seen what other communities have done with historic venues such as this, and believe in the potential of this 90-year-old diamond in the rough. Des Plaines Theatre is a large part of the economic engine that drives the downtown area."

LaBarbera presented signed letters of support from area businesses attesting that increased foot traffic from theater patrons helps sales. He added that the theater has done cross promotions in conjunction with area businesses who offer special discounts for theater patrons.

"Our events bring in an estimated 90 percent of our patrons from outside the Des Plaines area," he said, pointing to how important that was given the high vacancy rate in Metropolitan Square, a downtown redevelopment project.

Charewicz said the city has been lenient with the theater and that any other business in town would not have been allowed to operate with such violations.

"Everybody wants to keep them open so we are looking for a compromise here," he said. "If the city wanted to shut them down, they could have back on Dec. 15. We hope they can come up with a good plan because nobody wants to see them close."

The city council's next meeting takes place at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at city hall, 1420 Miner St.

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