Historic Libertyvlle theater to remain standing, but demolition push continues

  • Libertyville village trustees Tuesday denied a request to demolish the downtown Liberty theater, which opened in 1937 and closed in late January. The owner plans to continue to seek village permission to tear it down.

    Libertyville village trustees Tuesday denied a request to demolish the downtown Liberty theater, which opened in 1937 and closed in late January. The owner plans to continue to seek village permission to tear it down. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • The Liberty Theater in Libertyville around 1938.

    The Liberty Theater in Libertyville around 1938. Courtesy of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society

 
 
Updated 8/12/2020 5:01 PM

A request to demolish the Liberty theater building, a fixture in downtown Libertyville since 1937, has been denied by the village, but the owners plan to argue economic hardship as another way to get their wish.

Rhyan Holdings LLC, a family business that has owned the building at 708 N. Milwaukee Ave. for more than 50 years, contends the theater is not financially viable and the property would be more marketable with the building gone.

 

Rhyan has maintained that stance since it applied for permission to demolish the building a year ago. But no proposal for a replacement structure was offered, and having only an open lot to consider in a designated historic district was among the reasons the village rejected the demolition request.

As expected, the village board on Tuesday night upheld the recommendation to deny the request from the advisory historic preservation committee.

"I would like to see it preserved," said Trustee Rich Moras. "I also realize there would need to be a good economic reason to do so. The challenge I see with what's proposed here is we're only looking at half the equation."

After two public hearings last fall, the committee found that while the building isn't an architectural gem, it has enough historical and cultural significance that demolition would be detrimental to the public interest.

Building owners in a historic district need to secure a certificate of appropriateness to change or demolish a structure.

The village board decision to follow the recommendation sets the stage for the next act for the old movie house. Despite Tuesday's decision, the board agreed demolition can be considered later in the context of an application for a certificate of economic hardship.

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"A certificate of economic hardship is justified," Rhyan's attorney David Meeks told the board. The green space would be a "temporary hold" while a buyer for the site is sought, he said.

"The property is in such condition my client feels it prudent from an economic and structural standpoint to take the building down while he works through the process of finding somebody to bring something that will be very enjoyable to the community," Meeks said.

The certificate of economic hardship would be reviewed by the historic preservation commission, which would issue another recommendation to the village board. Justification would include information such as real estate taxes, mortgage balance, appraisals, operating and maintenance expenses, and anything else needed to show whether the property can yield a reasonable return for current or future owners.

An alternate use for the property does not have to be presented, according to John Spoden, Libertyville's community development director. However, he noted, one of the reasons the commission recommended denying the demolition request was it didn't know what would replace the theater.

The theater had operated in recent years as the Liberty 1 & 2 Theaters but closed in late January. The building and 1.17-acre property is listed for $1.95 million.

Mayor Terry Weppler said a viable buyer was in hand but "backed away" at the last minute when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

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