Will nonprofit status help save historic Catlow in Barrington?

  • The Catlow Arts Center -- better known as the Catlow Theater -- in Barrington has plans to turn into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, according to its owner, Tim O'Connor. The theater has been closed since early 2020.

      The Catlow Arts Center -- better known as the Catlow Theater -- in Barrington has plans to turn into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, according to its owner, Tim O'Connor. The theater has been closed since early 2020. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow Theater has been closed since early last year, but its owner says he hopes to reopen it as soon as physically possible with a new nonprofit status that would make it eligible for grants and other funding.

      The Catlow Theater has been closed since early last year, but its owner says he hopes to reopen it as soon as physically possible with a new nonprofit status that would make it eligible for grants and other funding. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The owner of the historic Catlow Theater in downtown Barrington hopes to reopen it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under the name the Catlow Arts Center.

      The owner of the historic Catlow Theater in downtown Barrington hopes to reopen it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under the name the Catlow Arts Center. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted3/9/2021 5:30 AM

The owner of the Catlow Theater in Barrington said he's in the final stages of turning the historic venue into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the goal of doing a complete rebuild and turning it into an entertainment center.

The Catlow, which dates back to 1927, has been closed since early 2020. The nonprofit Catlow Arts Center was incorporated in the state of Illinois in December 2019; the venue's website and Facebook page have the name Catlow Arts Center.

 

Obtaining federal nonprofit status will allow the venue to access grants and more funding to host live music and other events in addition to movies, Catlow owner Tim O'Connor said.

The plan includes work on the interior, "from the subbasement up to the roof," and the exterior for a yet-to-be determined cost, he said.

"Once we get our nonprofit status approved, we will see what we can do and how quickly we can do it. We want to open as soon as physically possible and we want to be sure that, once we reopen, we stay open to serve the community," he said Monday.

Meanwhile, the Parker Players, a local theater group, say they were blindsided by O'Connor's decision in early February to not move forward with an agreement to make the Catlow their new home. The building that housed Parker Playhouse was purchased in June 2019 by the state of Illinois as part of a project to build an underpass at Route 14.

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"It was going to be a win-win situation. Good for the Catlow, good for Parker Players and good for the village," Parker Players board President Jack Lageschulte said. "So we were really excited about it."

The theater group had negotiated with O'Connor for about a year, and the two parties reached an agreement that would have the Parker Players build a new stage, dressing rooms and accessible restrooms, Lageschulte said. The group also would perform life safety work required by the village, such as adding smoke detectors, he added.

The Parker Players would have invested up to $160,000 or so, and the Catlow was going to keep a portion of ticket sales and all concession sales, he said.

Instead, O'Connor raised some questions in January and wrote to Lageschulte Feb. 3 that he decided to go in "a different direction" because the contract was too in favor of the theater group, Lageschulte said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We were absolutely shocked," Lageschulte said. "We had spent a lot of time and a lot of money," including preliminary contractor work, he said.

O'Connor said that "we had to put the brakes on because we believed the legal language put the Catlow's future at risk.

"Among other things, it had the Catlow taking on more of the costs of the improvements the Players wanted," he added.

That's not true, Lageschulte said.

"We were even going to replace light bulbs and exit signs. He (O'Connor) was not going to put out one dime," he said.

O'Connor also said the proposed contract included things that had been rejected during negotiations. Lageschulte objected to that, saying O'Connor at one point signed a copy of the contract. The final piece was to be a signature from Chicago Title Land Trust Company, which holds the title of the building, Lageschulte said.

"We respect the Parker Players and we're certainly open to them being part of the future of the Catlow," O'Connor said.

The Catlow had been in bankruptcy proceedings that were closed in January 2020, court records show. A property tax redemption for the theater amounting to just over $52,000 is due by June 30, 2022, records show.

The tax issues are unrelated to the reopening of the Catlow as a nonprofit entertainment center, O'Connor said.

"The good news is that we have very exciting plans for the Catlow to generate revenue when we reopen," he said. "Our commitment is to do all we can to ensure the Catlow remains the historic landmark and arts center of our community for present and future generations. The worst is behind us."

Barrington spokeswoman Patty Dowd Schmitz said that, because the Catlow is a private entity, the village won't be involved until there are concrete construction plans.

"We are supportive of whatever we can do to make it successful," she said.

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