Arcada Theatre expected to remain open during more safety upgrades

The Arcada Theatre and Club Arcada nightclub and restaurant will likely keep operating on a temporary occupancy permit while the owner continues to make safety improvements.

St. Charles fire and building department officials said Tuesday they are pleased with the progress being made to address their concerns about the 93-year-old building. The city closed the theater and club last Thursday, but let it reopen for shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday after theater operator Ron Onesti worked around the clock getting things fixed.

"This was an impressive level of response," Fire Chief Joe Schelstreet said. "It's amazing how quickly and effectively he has responded to this."

City administrator Mark Koenen dismissed talk that because the theater is an important draw for downtown St. Charles, city officials would give the theater a break.

"We were willing, and we did, close it for the show last Thursday night," Koenen said. "Safety trumps 'economic engine.'"

Schelstreet said he and other fire and building department officials were stationed at the theater during the weekend shows. Fire representatives will continue to be at shows for the near future. If there are overtime costs, Onesti will pay them.

The city is also requiring the Arcada to have architects re-examine exits from the building. A study was done when Club Arcada opened in 2017 to make sure people could get out quickly in an emergency, but "people attending (shows) have said 'No, this doesn't work,'" Schelstreet said. The club has two exits, one of which it shares with the theater. The theater has several exits.

The study could result in changes to how many people can occupy the theater, depending on the type of event.

Schelstreet said the fire department received complaints in November about inadequate exits. City officials saw some items, such as amplifiers and chairs, that could hinder people trying to leave the building.

Onesti immediately started moving things, they said, including removing about three dozen chairs from the main floor of the theater.

While investigating the complaints, the city received two more. A patron reported a band used pyrotechnics during a Pink Floyd tribute show. St. Charles forbids the use of pyrotechnics in the Arcada Theatre. Rich Onesti, vice president of productions, said the tall sparkler device was not flame-based and was cool to the touch. But such items won't be allowed any more, he said.

Also, a person reported smelling natural gas outside the building and called the fire department, Schelstreet said.

Nicor repaired a service line leak in the basement. It plans to update the service lines to the building, including moving its meters outside. "That will be a significant safety improvement," Schelstreet said.

The next show is Don Felder, former lead guitarist of The Eagles, on Friday.

Because the city does not have an electrical or structural engineer on staff, it hired a consultant to help with its annual inspection of the building in March. An unsafe electrical panel has been replaced, and items that were stored in the electrical room have been removed. The room is now locked, and only designated workers can get in.

Some sprinklers were repaired, and items improperly stored near them removed. There are sprinklers in Club Arcada and in the hallways, but not in the theater auditorium.

Schelstreet repeatedly praised Onesti. "He's reaffirmed his commitment to safety," Schelstreet said.

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