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City Council Inches Towards Plan for Theater

The Highland Park City Council voted unanimously to consider a memorandum of understanding regarding a proposed project to revitalize the Highland Park Theatre on Monday.

The City Council took a big step towards reopening at its meeting on Monday night, when it voted unanimously to to consider a memorandum of understanding to revitalize the and its adjacent parking lot.

Earlier: 

The proposal, by Alcyon, LLC (Alcyon), was one of three proposals submitted in response to the City’s  on how to revitalize the theater and parking lot properties, according to a news release from the City of Highland Park.

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“This is the beginning of a thorough evaluation process,” said in the release.

The Alcyon would seek to replace the Highland Park Theatre and its adjacent parking lot with a sixstory, terraced designed, mixeduse, LEED targeted development, according to the release. The proposal includes 45 residential condominium units, 10,000 square feet of retail/commercial use, and a 500 to 600 seat theater/mixedmedia center. 

"We're excited about the possibility this proposal brings to us," City Councilman Paul Frank told Patch on Tuesday.

Now that the Council has signed off on the understanding, a city-contracted financial analyst will gather data to examine the proposal in order to determine what's allowable and what's feasible, according to Frank. Though the understanding means the city is in an exclusive talk with Alcyon for up to six months, the next steps in the process could begin in half that time.

"If a determination is made to go forward before six months we can go faster," Frank said.

The decision to enter into the understanding with Alcyon marks the beginning of a process that could take years; however, the Councilman noted that it's an important step forward.

"We're letting the public know where we're at," Frank said, "We need to move forward with this property and help bring back to life a really important asset of our downtown."

In the meantime, the City Council has not yet decided . About this, Frank sounded less optimistic.

"We're continuing to look at options, but I don't think there's enough support on the council to invest more money," he said.

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Molly August 29, 2012 at 11:11 AM
This six story building and parking deck on the opposite side of Central sounds huge, would ruin the atmosphere of the east end of Central Ave. Look at the empty store fronts, the unsold condos in the area. We're going to add more? I hope there's room left for a gelato store, a cupcake cafe and perhaps a dry cleaner or hair/nail salon.
Stuart Senescu August 29, 2012 at 01:24 PM
It does seem that a 6 story building would be too big for the footprint - the Optima/Port Clinton development is set on a whole block with the tallest buildings being set back a considerable distance from Central. This will be a tall building next to short buildings, right on Central. And it sounds like a considerable number of parking spaces east of the theater would be removed. So where will people park if the development does become a success? If there is a 500 seat theater, that would add about 150-200 cars to the area on performance nights. Perhaps The Patch can provide some preliminary drawings, sketches to this article for all to see?
Jack Straw August 29, 2012 at 01:56 PM
I think the city must look into all viable options, but 6 stories’ on the Far East side does seem a bit much.
forest barbieri August 29, 2012 at 02:49 PM
While I agree that 6 stories seems high, it is likely that the 6 stories is part of the math problem. Without any consideration for the theater which I am sure is secondary in any math considerations here. the retail space and condo project could generate around $3,000,000 per year (Assumption here is rental condos) or $9,000,000 over 3 years. That in turn crunched down into EBIT would support the investment as well as make it attractive on the financing side.
Stuart Senescu August 29, 2012 at 03:22 PM
If the investors want to deal with the city on an exclusive basis for at least six months, they should pay the city for taking the property off the market. That is pretty standard. They get a 'free' exclusive dealing arrangement while the city must turn down other potential buyers? Such an option has value. The article said there were three proposals. If one of the other proposals was reasonable, it is not good business to 'shake hands' with one bidder because the city loses leverage. Better to keep both bidders engaged until the best deal is reached. It could take a year before a deal is closed and in the mean time, the City owns a deteriorating eyesore.
lisa Temkin August 29, 2012 at 04:07 PM
You're making an assumption that independent retailers--or big box retailers--would rent these spaces-- and that the condos would sell or be rented. There are empty store fronts in every community along the North Shore. Retail is very difficult right now and has been for years. For any retailer to pay rent in a building like the one being proposed, the merchant would need to sell A LOT of product, A LOT! And I believe that six stories is too tall for the east of Central where residential buildings are literally next door.
Daniel August 29, 2012 at 07:58 PM
How much are the developers paying for the property?
Fritz Lentz August 30, 2012 at 03:26 PM
It would be great for the city if we had a landmark theatre that would show a weekly movie and could accommodate stage plays, concerts and ceremonies. Not a warren of dingy screening rooms but one big venue with modern facilities, wine bar and catering.
David Greenberg August 30, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Whatever's done - I don't want to see one more penny of taxpayer money go to fund it. If the deal is so great, the Developer should put up 100% of their own money. No TIF district, no rebates, etc. Otherwise, we need to have a discussion about how much money is getting directed to the developers, and how that lack of money for the City's general fund is going to adversely impact city services and/or our tax rates. I'm also not a fan of a theater at all. In the face of home theaters, and on-/off-line video options, theaters are a dying business that we ought not to support publicly in the slightest. A performing arts venue is an interesting concept, but in light of the fact that other performing arts venues have gone out of business, I'd be quite skeptical of such a use for this new location.
Redhead August 31, 2012 at 04:09 AM
And how about a theater where you can buy tickets ahead of time and choose your seat ahead of time so you don't have to come to a movie so far ahead of time1 Works in LA - would work here!
Redhead August 31, 2012 at 04:12 AM
What does the City Council plan to say to former prospects who were denied the opportunity to build higher? One case in point was the old Columbia Audio-Video building.
Daniel August 31, 2012 at 01:58 PM
David you are out of luck. My guess is the numbers only work with TIF. Still no word if they are paying for the prperty. My guess is no and that it is TIF funded.
Susan Kozloff September 01, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Sell it lock, stock, and barrel. It is a drain on taxpayers and a TIF will only drain more dollars from schools and all local programs when they are now needed most. We have had various downtown projects built with TIF funds which are still diverting taxpayers funds long, long after they were due to expire. This theatre is a boodoggle and there is no reason to hook the taxpayer into paying for its enlargement.
Stuart Senescu September 01, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Movie distributors are very close to providing only 'digital' movies, not 'film' - no more reels. It requires the theater operator to invest in expensive digital equipment. So if the city has any inclination to consider opening the theater on a limited basis, it needs to take into account this added expense with a very limited time for ROI. I agree with other residents to sell the building and lot 'as is'; don't create a TIF. A hulking concrete two story parking garage does not fit in with the transition from an older style block of storefronts to the tree lined residential area east of the current theater & surface lots. If the developers need to take over surface parking space they should put some of the new parking below grade level. What happens if the develpment is not successful? the City needs to shift as much risk as possible to the developer, that's their business. Cooperation is good, contribution is not.

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