Des Plaines gives theater time to fix code issues
The Des Plaines city council Tuesday night granted the Des Plaines Theatre a 13-month extension to bring the building into compliance with city and state fire safety codes.
The city's building code committee had recommended the 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.
After a lengthy discussion, the council voted unanimously to extend the deadlines for completing all outstanding items that were supposed to be fixed by Dec. 15, 2012 to Jan. 15, 2014. The deadline for a separate list of items that were scheduled to be fixed by Sept. 15, 2013, also has been extended 13 months.
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. 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.
While many of those corrections were made, several items that were expected to be in compliance by Dec. 15, 2012, were not completed.
Acting Mayor Mike Charewicz asked theater owner Dhitu Bhagwakar whether the new timeline was acceptable.
"Yes, it is a realistic timeline," Bhagwakar said thanking the aldermen and city staff for working with him and allowing the theater to remain open during this time.
Bhagwakar said he hoped to have the work completed in time so he wouldn't require another extension. "I think we can do it and we will explore all the opportunities," he added.
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.
Bringing the theater up to code could cost roughly $250,000.
Bhagwakar said he will be working with the theater's general manager to come up with a fundraising plan, and raise money through future shows.
"We should be able to achieve the goal that we have," he added.
The theater's new general manager, Tony LaBarbera, said the theater only has one show booked for February because promoters were nervous about signing on when its continued operation was up in the air.
"We don't have anybody lined up as of today," said LaBarbera, adding that he will be trying to bring a mixture of movies, plays and musical performances to the venue.
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.
During the meeting, LaBarbera presented a letter of support signed by 21 area business owners and managers attesting that increased foot traffic from theater patrons helps sales. He said he also has been working with area businesses to do cross promotions offering special discounts for theater patrons.