Des Plaines Theatre takes first step toward being reopened

  • The Des Plaines Theatre is a step closer to being reopened after aldermen voted Monday to enter an agreement with Rivers Casino to buy the historic downtown venue.

      The Des Plaines Theatre is a step closer to being reopened after aldermen voted Monday to enter an agreement with Rivers Casino to buy the historic downtown venue. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 8/8/2017 8:09 AM

Des Plaines aldermen have taken the first official step toward reopening the Des Plaines Theatre, a project that could cost taxpayers millions but be a boon for the city's downtown.

The city council approved a nonbinding agreement Monday to partner with Rivers Casino on the project after the historic theater was shut down three years ago because of building code violations. Under the agreement, the casino has pledged to pitch in up to $2 million to buy and renovate the building. The city would cover the remaining amount and take ownership of the theater.


Mayor Matt Bogusz, who hatched the idea of public ownership of the building, said the theater is a key to revitalizing the city's downtown.

"I think our council want to see progress in our downtown, and that's what you heard tonight," Bogusz said. "The first step is the biggest step."

With the promise of cash from the casino, the city will be able to enter negotiations with the theater owner to buy the shuttered building. If an agreement is reached, the city would then enter a formal contract with Rivers Casino, laying out more specific terms such as the extent of repairs.

The owner, Dhitu Bhagwakar, bought the building in 2002 and operated the theater with mixed success, showing American and Indian films. But he failed to make necessary repairs to comply with building codes, and the city shut down the operation in 2014.

Bhagwakar has said he is open to selling the property.

If the theater is reopened under the city's ownership, officials plan to hire a manager to book shows and run day-to-day operations. Ron Onesti, operator of the successful Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, has interest in the venue and has said the market conditions are right for reopening the theater.

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However, the industry is competitive, and taxpayers would be on the hook for covering costs of the project.

On the flip side, adding visitors to the theater, which is next to the city's Metra station, would add business to the city's downtown. Already, the city has a program in place to give new restaurant owners incentives for opening downtown.

While the plan has faced some pushback and skepticism from the city council, aldermen unanimously approved the agreement Monday.

After years of failed business plans in the historic building, the city needs to take a risk in spending tax dollars on reopening the venue, City Manager Mike Bartholomew said.

"Doing nothing is not an option," he said. "We have to do something different."

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