Should the City Fix Highland Park Theatre?

It will cost the city $90,000 to bring one of the theater's four screens up to fire code. Is it worth it?

Highland Park Fire Chief Pat Tanner handed the City Council some bad news about the at its last meeting:

Though some City Council members believe reopening the theater may be worthwhile for the nearby businesses, many Patch readers think it's time to sell it off without putting anymore money into it. 

"Why the city got involved with this theatre I'll never understand," writes . "They should sell this property immediately."

Reader agrees, going as far to suggest the city tear the building down and just sell the empty lot.

"The City should put the building up for sale and cut its losses," he writes. "Don't throw good money after bad."

But not all readers have given up on the theater. On Facebook, Matt Feddermann suggests the city sell it to an entity that will turn it into a music venue or a BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) theater. Stashs owner Bobby Dubin in the same space and has been pleased with the results. 

AJ Chalom is one of the few readers who believes the city can turn a profit on the theater. She believes it comes down to improving the way it's managed.

"Don't let it sit, properly manage and promote it to attract teens, families, and local residents," she writes. "Give it a Facebook page, put movie times on the DBA website and the city website. Don't let it just deteriorate."

What do you think? Should the city spend $90,000 to reopen part of the Highland Park Theatre? Or should it leave it shuttered until it finds a buyer? Leave a comment or submit a blog post here.

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sandy granroth August 05, 2012 at 02:27 PM
The interior of the theatre has been gross for years and there is no handicapped accessibility to the upstairs theatre. Nice that they get first run movies, but I stay away from there as if the place had the plague.
Evan Kane August 05, 2012 at 02:57 PM
To follow the logic of the people who believe the city should not own and operate a movie theater; the pools, golf course, beach and recreation center should all be closed.
Mosaic53 August 05, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Would you spend $90,000 to remodel part of your home if you knew it would not be recouped? Maybe so, if you did it to enjoy the space knowing you wouldn't get a return. However, this is not a private entity & it's just common sense not to. No more City money should be poured into this space. Let the next buyer do it. It's already been almost a year since the RFP (Request for Proposals) went out & we are still not privy whose Proposal is being considered.
Chilawyer August 05, 2012 at 05:21 PM
All those who voted yes should invest their personal funds to upgrade the theater. I have had enough of suburban socialism. We should not let our town turn into the People's Republic of Highland Park. It was a travesty for the City to every buy this theater in the first place. It's well-deserved irony that the City's fire department has closed the City's movie theater. Not another penny of public funds.
James August 05, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Highland Park proves once again how a city with such great reserves of your tax dollars can squander and mismanage those funds. Crony capitalism at its best. let's build a bridge at Rosewood beach that connects to Escanaba Michigan.
wayne citron August 05, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Why don't we look to the Wilmette Theatre as an example of an older theatre that is bringing quality movies, children's programs and adult entertainment on a regular basis to the community.
sandy granroth August 05, 2012 at 06:25 PM
A bridge from Rosewood Beach to Escanaba Michigan sounds rather lovely, actually. Maybe we could move a usable section on the HP Theatre to an oasis at the halfway point on the bridge. Better yet, make it a car ferry which includes a theatre and a doggy park.
Richard A Holleb August 05, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Keep the theater. Great venue for bringing shoppers to HP. Good for both day and night business.
Linda Iovino August 05, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I grew up with the HP Theatre which was formerly known as The Alcyon. It was the only movie theatre in the area and it served its purpose well. The struggle to keep this theatre open and the cost factor to keep it going is something I will not support. The parking in Highland Park has always been an issue for merchants. I think this building should be demolished and made into more parking in Highland Park. The merchants that do have businesses in Highland Park suffer from customers not finding parking in Highland Park. This would be very helpful for the east end of Highland Park to have ample parking for customers. Please consider this in your decision. Let's keep the businesses we have in downtown Highland Park going instead of seeing more closed with the economic problems we are facing. I don't see the situation getting any better soon. Any movies can be seen at home with Netflix, Cable stations etc. The era of going to the movies is on a downslide. A Concerned and Tax Paying Citizen of Highland Park
David Greenberg August 05, 2012 at 10:37 PM
The city should not own and operate a movie theater. The pools are run by the Park District, as are the beaches, and rec centers. The golf course shouldn't be run by the City either, but as of 2014 per an intergovernmental agreement signed a while back - it's going to transfer to the Park District too.
David Greenberg August 05, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Redhead August 05, 2012 at 10:41 PM
This theater has been a pit for a long time - broken down seats, sticky floors, fire hazard, even lousy popcorn! There are so many nice theaters around, who would even want to go there? The surrounding businesses will not suffer if the city sells the property, with or without the building, to a business that will attract people. I cannot even imagine that anyone would want to remodel this whole building. It would probably be cheaper to start from scratch. Rumor has it that there was an offer on the table - what has happened to that?
David Greenberg August 05, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Close it. Don't invest one penny more into it. Sell it "AS IS" and make the buyer responsible for bringing it up to code if they want to open it as a Theater/similar venue. Otherwise, let them tear it down and put something else there. As I've said many times before - movie theaters are a tough business, very difficult to make money on, and long in decline in the face of home theaters/portable video devices. It's been losing money. If you had an investment that lost $43K/year, and someone came to you and said "If you put in $90K, you'll still lose $43K", your response might be along the lines of "Oh Bernie Madoff, fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice? Not gonna happen..." Maybe the Historical Society could have a fundraiser to remove the marque and display it somewhere?
Sheldon Langer August 05, 2012 at 10:44 PM
The purchase of HP Theater was a BIG mistake from the get-go. I was present at the initial discussions re: the purchase, & found that it was a done deal from the beginning. The amount paid for the theater was the appraised value given to it 3 yrs. earlier. This was the ONLY property I know of that did not lose it's value when the economy turned. Here is an little unknown fact-- a small excise tax was added on to Ravinia tickets which was used to support the operation of the HP Theater. I doubt that this theater ever made any money. It is not the business of the City of HP to use taxpayer dollars to run a movie theater, or for that matter any type of business of this sort. This theater was just as disgusting when it charged a $1.00
Larry Hillman August 05, 2012 at 11:35 PM
$90,000 is barely the tip of the Iceberg. That expenditure leaves the place a dump and with no air conditioning ... running just one screen ... and lossing another $100,000 PER YEAR. The theater needs a solution. Not a bandaid.
David Greenberg August 06, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Even if you have a solution to restore the Theater to it's bygone-era glory, you're still at a negative ROI - although it's even more negative because you've spent more... As for no airconditioning - does anyone recall that Movie Theaters were attractive back-in-the-day because they DID have air conditioning. People had a reason to get out of the heat, catch a news reel before a double feature, commiserate with their friends and neighbors. Flash forward to the Present: No AC and it's 90+ outside so with a hundred or more heaters (oops, movie patrons) in the room it's gonna get hot, fast. There's a gazillion previews BEFORE the single feature - sometimes so many that you forget what movie you actually came to see. The concessions are unhealthy and expensive. Parking and traffic is a nightmare to deal with. And more often than not, people in the theater are commiserating DURING the movie - either voice or text, on the phone, in person, etc... All in all, it's a very unsatisfying experience and in this day and age when there's other, much more attractive offerings competing for scarce discretionary dollars, one can get one's video 'fix' on the phone, tablet, computer, or TV at home and have a better overall experience. Sell that building, tear it down, and replace it with something else. Maybe a combo arcade-style shops, parking garage, and maybe some offices upstairs, some apartments.
Paul Neilan August 06, 2012 at 01:13 AM
Assume you spent $360M renovating the whole place (that's $90M per screen, with four screens). The most likely scenario is that the theater will never turn a profit. The movie theater business has been a money-loser for several years now, that's not news. If I'm wrong and this is such a great project, where are the private investors lining up to put their money into a movie theater venture? Why should public money be used for this?
30not65 August 06, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Alot of my fellow HP'ers are cheapskates ! Keep this legend alive for the extra $3.00 per year it's going to cost you individually. Make it a unique theater with a bar AND intermission ! The younger generation of HP will flock.
David Greenberg August 06, 2012 at 05:06 AM
Actually a lot of your fellow HP'ers are very intelligent people - we know a lousy investment when we see one and decline to throw good taxpayer money after bad. But if you think you can make a business case for it no one's stopping you, throw a plan together, get some private financing, buy it from the City, and take a shot at a business.
Molly August 06, 2012 at 11:26 AM
Perhaps the theatre could be a satellite spot for Ravinia...if people can be convinced to spend $40 a person to enter a park, sit in the bushes, bring their own food, provide their chairs and then listen to artists via an inadequate sound system we should be able to sell the theatre experience.
Gerry Meister August 07, 2012 at 02:14 PM
the $90,000 that has been mentioned by all as the number is not the number at all. Does not come close to what is needed to be spent. There is much more work and money to be spent than the $90,000 to bring the property to code compliance and meet the expectations of the community, as a full and complete analysis has not been done.
Steve Firestone August 07, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Ok, while I think turning the theater into parking is definitely something to be seriously considered, I think running the theater or selling to someone who will is also worth consideration. Consider the Regal IMAX Theater. I just saw The Dark Knight Rises. Although IMAX is much more expensive than other tickets, it was the last weekend for it to be shown at the IMAX and we all know what happened to another showing of this movie, it was PACKED. Almost all of us have small movie theaters now in our basements or living rooms. Someone with business sense should turn the theater back into a single large theater with a large screen. Maybe it should be one of the first Quad HD theaters. Make sure you have a great sound system and comfortable seats. I once had the idea, although I think it's been done before, of having some love seats. Reopen the Alcyon!!!
Stuart Senescu August 07, 2012 at 03:03 PM
There's a big difference in operating a commercial enterprise in an area like the North Shore where the private sector brings in capital to operate for-profit enterprises, and where the private sector doesn't bring in capital. The movie theater was in private hands and competed with the Renaissance theaters. There are movie theaters all over the north shore owned by the private sector. There are no or extremely few private beaches because the law has deemed the beaches public property. With large pools in our weather challenged area, there are very few private pools who could handle the general citizenry. The public golf courses around the north shore are generally pretty old because the large capital involved could only be raised by municipalities at the time and offered non-discriminatory access. There are certain services which function on a public basis v private basis - would you want to hire a snowplow for your street frontage? These issues require critical thinking and analysis.
Mosaic53 August 07, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Kudos to Paul's Comments! While I see a lot of good ideas here, the cliché of "Put your Money where your Mouth is" is dead on. It's easy for all of us to sit back & offer up endless opinions on what to do with the Theater. It's up to a private group to take the next steps NOT the City.
Mosaic53 August 07, 2012 at 05:01 PM
PS And, we have not heard from the City about the status of the RFPs submitted last year. Just how many Proposals were viable? I heard a rumor there was only one. I understand the need to keep it internal until there's something to report, However, I think we all need to hear more about the progress to date & not be kept in the dark - like the theater.
Adam Natenshon August 07, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Neighborhood theaters are the core of a vibrant commercial district. They draw people throughout the evening and into the night. The Music Box is the core of the Southport restaurant district and Davis is the core of Lincoln Ave district. The newly restored Logan Theater on Milwaukee Avenue is drawing patrons from around Chicago and has spurred and is supporting the opening of many new restaurants and stores. A vibrant Highland Park Theater is one the best investments that can be made in the longterm vibrancy of the central Highland Park business district which provides an important employment base, significant sales tax revenue and is essential to the quality of life in Highland Park.
David Greenberg August 07, 2012 at 06:20 PM
I understand that there's certain services which function on a pubic v. private basis. In some instances, it's both. Take "private" streets - they're plowed by a private service. I wouldn't want to hire a snowplow for my street, because our City does a great job. But honestly, during some really heavy snows when the City was busy with the main roads, ours hadn't gotten done, so I got out my snowblower and did the whole street. What I'm driving at is that sometimes services are rightly handled by the Public. But the movie theater isn't one of them, and never should have been.
David Greenberg August 07, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Who operates that Theater?
David Greenberg August 07, 2012 at 06:26 PM
IMAX Theaters come in a couple of shapes and sizes - all have huge screens, but a true IMAX is an enormous screen. We'd need a bigger building just to surround/support it. Then there's the seating - that has to be built in a certain manner, certain distances from the IMAX screen. Add in IMAX sound systems. And don't forget the IMAX projector. The whole thing runs into the millions of dollars, and unless you can pack in the crowds and give them adequate parking, it's not a worthwhile bet. The Regal IMAX also has what - 15 or 20 other screens in the same building? I don't think that I've ever seen an IMAX theater stand alone - with just that. There's always something else around it to make a draw - a museum, a cineplex, mall, etc... We just don't have that in the area, and couldn't really build it in that location. Traffic in HP is already pretty interesting at times, can you imagine a REALLY, REALLY big crowd? Oy... As for someone with business sense turning it into a single theater - I think that the lack of proposals speaks volumes.
David Greenberg August 07, 2012 at 06:28 PM
What's open in the evening/night in HP? Not much. The theater isn't open now, and the businesses in that area seem to be doing just fine. Along with late evening/night usage comes other costs and issues to contend with. I agree with Gerry - you gotta do the math first.


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