Arcada Theatre manager: City needs to help fix venue or it will close Dec. 31
When Donnie Wahlberg brought the New Kids on the Block and his "Go Home with Donnie" sweepstakes concert to the Arcada Theatre in June 2016, it displayed the venue's value and shortcomings for St. Charles officials.
Fans poured in from across the country, visiting local restaurants, the theater and surrounding bars and hotels after the performance.
But a power failure during the show left the audience drenched in sweat and saw patrons standing 50 deep to use one of the few toilets.
Ron Onesti, who runs the Arcada, knows he can't keep steering people to the theater if his outdated air conditioning and bathrooms drive them away.
So a couple of months ago, Onesti sent the city an email: Help fix the theater, or the historic marquee would go dark as of Dec. 31.
The contents of the email became public Monday as city aldermen approved minutes from their midyear retreat. The June meeting included a discussion about how to keep the Arcada as a centerpiece of the downtown.
Mayor Ray Rogina confirmed the city plans to help Onesti.
"The city of St. Charles wants Ron Onesti as part of the fabric here for a long time to come," Rogina said.
But there's a hole in the fabric of the Arcada. Onesti operates the theater on a month-to-month lease; he doesn't own the building.
"That's the dilemma that makes this more complicated," Rogina said. "You have an absentee owner who lives in the Pacific Northwest. We're talking to the tenant, not the landlord.
"I think we can still come to a grand bargain. But how that plays out is still not done. The bottom line is the Arcada is a very important piece of our downtown. Ron Onesti is an important part of that."
With a landowner who, so far, isn't willing to make deals, city officials don't have a clear path to a solution. The city purchased the adjacent structure, known as the George's Sporting Goods building, for $225,000 in 2012. The plan was to transform it for a use that complements the Arcada, and the aldermen's meeting minutes show that's still the plan.
At least nine buyers have expressed interest in the building since the city put it back on the market in March.
The George's building includes bathrooms that could provide immediate relief for the Arcada and its customers. But there is no convenient way for Arcada patrons to access those facilities without new access between the two buildings. That hasn't happened.
Air conditioning improvements could happen if the city provides new electrical infrastructure, but it would have to work with the building owner. And, in both examples of potential improvements, the city runs the risk of pumping $2 million or more to improve the Arcada for a tenant who only has a month-to-month lease.
City officials could create a lot of value for a privately owned property and wind up with nothing to show for it.
Onesti said he's not interested in any battles the city may have with his landlord. His concern is the quality customers associate with his name and the community that hosts his shows.
"My job, as it pertains to the community, is to provide a place where people want to come and support business," Onesti said. "I've put $1 million of my own money into the place. I've put on millions of dollars' worth of great entertainment. I've proven I'm real when it comes to that. But I must be able to provide a comfortable, safe and clean environment. Right now, I can't do that alone at the Arcada. The city needs to partake in this renovation."
Onesti said the conversations since June have been "very supportive" toward helping the theater. One scenario could include Onesti signing a 10-year lease and the city tying any theater investments it makes to Onesti rather than the building owner. But while the discussions with the city are positive, it can't be just talk, Onesti said.
"If we don't make improvements, in two or three years people are not going to come to the Arcada," Onesti said. "This is my career and my name and my brand. If I can't achieve an amazing experience for my customers, then I have to go to a place where I can. My intent is not to leave. But I stand by what I said in my letter. Major action has to be taken within the next 30 to 60 days, period."
Arcada: 'My intent is not to leave,' Onesti says