Only a few weeks remain in the exclusive agreement between the Highland Park City Council and prospective developers for the Highland Park Theatre, and councilmembers are still waiting for some important details about the potential plan.
Alcyon LLC would seek to replace the city-owned Highland Park Theatre and its adjacent parking lot with a six‐story, terraced designed, mixed‐use, LEED targeted development. The proposal includes 45 residential condominium units, 10,000 square feet of retail/commercial use, and a 500 to 600 seat theater/mixed‐media center.
The mixed-media center is yet to be discussed with specificity, creating some skepticism about the proposal, according to City Councilman Tony Blumberg.
"The memorandum of understanding is addressed as the movie theater project," Blumberg explained in an interview last week. "If we don't have a clear idea of what's going to happen to the movie theater, I don't think that the rest of the council is going to support it."
A challenge to existing property owners
An aspect of the proposal that has been discussed at length is Alcyon's plan to build up six stories of condominiums and new retail space. Blumberg is uncertain about the viability of this kind of expansion to the downtown.
"What is not clear to me is why it is necessary to have six stories of condos and additional retail space," Blumberg said. "If we already have some empty retail space, they are now going to challenge existing property owners further to fill the space."
The city's occupancy rate was at 93 percent in 2012, up from 91 percent in 2011 and 85 percent in 2010, according to Carolyn Hersch, the business liaison in Highland Park's Office of Economic Development.
Alcyon also wants $7 million in subsidies
Should the City Council go forward with Alcyon's proposal, Highland Park would offer the developers $7 million in subsidies, including about $2.7 million up-front, that would eventually be reimbursed.
During a Jan. 14 presentation from Alcyon, City Councilwoman Sally Higginson asked if it was common practice for a city to provide offer so much to a developer before the work has begun. A consultant from Gruen Gruen + Associates, a group that has conducted a financial analysis of the proposal on the city's behalf, told Higginson "it was not only uncommon but that they couldn't come up with a single instance of any such pre-development profit being included," according to Higginson.
This did not bode well for the plan, according to Blumberg.
"Sally asked if its typical for a developer to be paid up front," Blumberg said. "I don't think we received a satisfactory answer to that."
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering told Patch recently that her priority is to ensure that no Highland Park Theatre deal brings any additional stress to taxpayers. She said she was interested to see how the plan looked when more detailed information about the theater itself came to light.
"We will see where everything comes out when the theater piece is added to the equation," Rotering said.