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Uncertainties Loom in Highland Park Theatre Proposal

As an exclusive agreement between the Highland Park City Council and a potential Highland Park Theatre developer nears its expiration, questions remain about the viability of the plan and the theater itself.

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 . 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.

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DrBm12 February 06, 2013 at 01:00 PM
You know the strip mall next to E-Street ? What is the point of it, and has anyone ever shopped in there? I can't name 1 store other than the bank at the end. Wouldn't that be a better location for a behemoth building ?
Bob Levi February 06, 2013 at 01:29 PM
The Willmette Theater was privatelypurchased a number of years ago and has tried bringing different types of live entertainment to the space besides films. I note their adult daytime programming no longer is offered and they now have limited live evening programs. I also have heard they restructured the theater from a for-profit venture to a not-for-profit status. Perhaps their bank require the change. That's just a guess on my part. I'm sure the City Council will carefully evaluate the developer's plans for the theater. But the City Council should make sure plans for the theater are viable.
Fedup February 06, 2013 at 02:17 PM
Subsidies from the city? This is unbelievable. It's as if no one has learned anything from the financial catastrophes of the past 10 years. Why did any in Highland Park government spend more than 30 seconds debating such an idea? If private enterprise sees something worth developing then it will raise private capital to fund it. They will work to make a profit and pay back their investors. If private enterprise comes to the city for money it's clear that no one in the private sector sees a good chance for profit and the taxpayers will be left holding the empty bag. Government needs to stop throwing taxpayers' money at risky, no-return private enterprises. And some of us need to return to Econ. 101 to understand why.
Susan Kozloff February 06, 2013 at 02:53 PM
Absolutely agree with Fedup. We also need to investigate who buried the physical inspection/viability report. If irregularities are spotted, shouldn't charges be filed? It is also time to revisit our home rule status. We are giving the city council carte blanche to spend our money. Clearly that is not going too well....
Stuart Senescu February 06, 2013 at 03:05 PM
I agree with Fedup. The current building is an eyesore and looks like it belongs in an inner city. I'm sure without someone in there on a daily basis, it probably becomes a hazard to the whole block. One rusty pipe, one old electrical panel, and the building becomes a safety and hazard disaster waiting to happen. I suggest the City put the whole thing up for sale and let the private sector determine best use. I would even be willing for the City to demolish the building so that it lessens any safety issues and provides a clean plot for developers. Recoupment of that expense comes in the sales price.
MS February 06, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Sell it. Period.
Chef23 February 06, 2013 at 03:22 PM
The current proposal is stupid, just what highland park needs another condo building and yet more stores. Here is what is going to happen if they were do go ahead with this project, Some fancy stores will open up and last mabey last year if they are lucky and then close up to add to the countless other empty stores this town already has. What a great idea! Fix the theather and open it up again
MR February 06, 2013 at 07:20 PM
Perhaps an apartment building?
Steven N February 06, 2013 at 08:39 PM
This is a dark hole that the city never should have entered. If now is the time to end this mistake then reject any further city particpation and let those who think they can make work, make it work without any help from the taxpayers.
Benny G. February 06, 2013 at 09:10 PM
Any developer will do the condo deal all day long. The nightmare is the theater and retail component part of the deal or now being called the "mixed media center." That's the new name for a movie theater that nobody will touch with a ten foot pole. Let's call it a mixed media center so a buyer will not know what it really is...pretty funny. The reason there is no "specificity" on the theater component is the developer that our city council has jumped into the sack with wants nothing to do with building it. The city spent nearly $2,000,000.00 buying the property and what do they have to show for it---nada. Rotering was right- HP should have never bought it in the first place. This is just another simmering snafu for our beloved HP. Just another black eye. They should sell it to a dense condo builder for the most amount of money. Forget retail of any kind. How long does this boondoggle have to drag on.
Moe @ the Buck February 06, 2013 at 09:21 PM
I think we should turn it into a build your own burger joint. How can we go wrong with that?
forest barbieri February 06, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Who would not like to get almost 3 Million in profit before they even break ground? Obviously, this is a financial game being played by the potential investors to see how badly the city wants to unload the property on favorable terms to a shrewd investor. Then pocket the 2.7 million using it and the other benefits to help collateralize the loan. What is next? Have Standards and Poor rate the note triple AAA. package and sell the loan....sound familiar? While the city needs to consider serious proposals, let’s let this exclusive expire, shop it, sell it and take our lumps. Better for taxpayers than fronting another 7 million!
Karen Beebe February 07, 2013 at 01:53 AM
It is a theater and a piece if Highland Park history, I would like to see someone restore it and use it as such.
Kate February 20, 2013 at 04:44 AM
I agree. Restore the theater as other small towns have successfully done.. Look up Wayne and Bryn Mawr PA

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