Council Given Highland Park Theatre Homework
Mayor asks to assemble theater wishlist for for July 25 discussion.
A new life for the Highland Park Theatre took another step forward Monday at the City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
Mayor Nancy Rotering gave herself and the six councilmen homework to complete by the end of the week to let City Manager Dave Limardi know the key elements they want to see in a Request for Proposal (RFP) to go to potential developers.
Limardi promised the Council a draft of an RFP for review at its next Committee of the Whole session July 25. One potential suitor, Nova Cinemas, has already indicated a desire to offer a plan that would include live entertainment and movies.
The homework is a form given to each councilman and the mayor asking them to rank their preferences for development with such choices as continuing as a movie theater, becoming a live entertainment venue, preserving the building or starting fresh.
Limardi and Community Development Director Michael Blue outlined a range of information that could be put in a RFP to help the City Council draft a proposal to its liking.
Since the city wants to maintain as much control over the development as possible, Limardi cautioned against too broad an RFP.
“It’s more difficult to judge proposals when they are broader,” he said.
Some Council members talked about restrictive covenants to assure the property is used as a theater.
'Some kind of theater'
Councilman Steve Mandel made it clear he wanted the site to remain a place for the public to gather for entertainment but was open to options.
“Everything,” Mandel responded to what could be in the RFP. “Fix it up or tear it down as long as it remains some kind of theater.”
While Mandel expressed the view of many of the council members who want to see the city-owned building remain an entertainment venue, others have asked their colleagues to prepare for the possibility it may not happen.
“We may not get that,” Councilman David Naftzger said regarding a proposal. “This must be as flexible as possible."
For the most part, there is a consensus among the city’s legislative body that the site should remain an entertainment vehicle of some sort and that height restrictions not exceed the city’s current three-story requirements -- or four with special permission.
“It should be no more than four stories with a PUD (planned unit development),” Councilman Jim Kirsch said. “It borders a residential neighborhood.”
While Kirsch joined the others wishing to see as much flexibility as possible in the RFP, he made it clear the disposition of the theater was an issue affecting the entire central business district and beyond.
“The RFP must fully encompass all options so we may weigh different aspects in a variety of ways,” Kirsch said. “We may take less money because it is better for downtown.”
When it came time for the public to offer comments, Historic Preservation Commission member Lisa Temkin encouraged the Council to push for landmark status.
“I would hope somebody would consider a renovation,” Temkin said. “You should educate the buyer about the good things about landmarking."
Mandel was quick to echo his agreement. He has long understood the importance of the theater as a driver of business for downtown Highland Park.
“My first choice would be to have it preserved,” Mandel said. “It may not be one of the proposals,” he cautioned.
Neesa Sweet, who said she lives near the theater, also pushed for its continued use as an entertainment venue. She inquired about holding a town hall meeting before a final decision was made.