Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove looking to expand

  • The Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove is seeking permission to build a 32-seat theater in a storefront space that previously housed a travel agency.

      The Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove is seeking permission to build a 32-seat theater in a storefront space that previously housed a travel agency. Scott C. Morgan | Staff Photographer, Aug. 2020

Posted11/12/2020 5:00 AM

The owners of the historic Tivoli Theatre are seeking permission from Downers Grove to construct a more intimate theater next door.

"The biggest thing it does is allows us flexibility," said Chris Johnson, a co-CEO of Classic Cinemas, which operates the Tivoli. "Instead of holding the same feature for three to four weeks in the big house, we'll be able to move it to the smaller house and then open a newer movie."


The proposed theater is to be located to the west of the main entrance of the Tivoli, a 1,050-seat theater dating back to 1928 at 5021 Highland Ave. The new theater will be built in a storefront that has been vacant since 2013.

Johnson likens the Tivoli's plans to Chicago's Music Box Theatre, which built a smaller theater into an adjoining storefront back in the 1990s.

If built, the new theater will only have 32 seats, but Johnson said it will be equipped with heated recliners and state-of-the-art laser projection technology.

Johnson also hopes the new theater will allow the Tivoli the freedom to book more concerts and other live events on its main stage.

Jason Zawila, Downers Grove planning manager, on Tuesday made a brief presentation about the proposal to the village council. Classic Cinemas needs to get a special use permit from the village to do the project.

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Zawila said the proposal had previously won unanimous approval from the plan commission on Oct. 26. He also emphasized that the building's exterior wouldn't be significantly altered and would adhere to the village's downtown design guidelines.

Downers Grove Mayor Bob Barnett and the commissioners were very receptive, and many paid direct compliments to Johnson, who was in attendance at the meeting.

"Thank you so much for continuing to invest here," Commissioner Nicole Walus said. "I can't imagine our town without the Tivoli."

"It's a great thing to see the Tivoli positioning for what's to come," said Commissioner Cavanaugh L. Gray, highlighting how many theaters are closed due to the ongoing coronavirus.


Though other arts venues like the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Arcada Theatre in St. Charles are doing substantial venue renovations while COVID-19 has forced their closure, Johnson said the Tivoli had planned its expansion long before the lockdown.

"But it is a good time to do construction if we can make it work," said Johnson, declining to specify the project's estimated cost.

An full village council meeting vote on the special use permit is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 17.

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