What’s happening with the theater?  It’s the question we get asked the most, it has been one of my top priorities since taking office and it is one of the Council’s key projects for 2013.

While no one wants to live in the past, history tells a story and guides future decision-making. What we knew then is different from what we know now. The re-development of the City-owned Highland Park Movie Theater must be done thoughtfully and with due diligence.

To re-cap, in February 2009, the prior administration purchased the Highland Park Theater for $2.1 million.  Intentions were to convert the theater into a live entertainment venue. Unfortunately, those efforts failed and the City ended up owning a movie theater that operated at a loss.

The situation was exacerbated when in May 2012, following tips from City employees, an independent fire inspection was conducted and the theater needed to be closed for fire safety reasons. When questions were raised regarding re-opening the theater, we needed to assess the bare bones basics to assure public safety.  Our new City staff determined it would cost more than $90,000 to address basic fire safety issues, and significantly more to address building safety issues such as an overtaxed electrical system, water damage and mold removal.  Additional dollars would also be needed to equip the theater to meet basic technology changes since last year: digital projectors are now needed to run currently distributed films.  Even with this additional investment, there was no assurance that the theater would operate at a profit. The City Council voted to explore alternative options.

The City continues to pursue options to redevelop the theater in a way that meets the many goals and desires of the community, complements the business district and nearby residential area, reduces the financial burden placed on residents and ultimately enhances our downtown and brings revenue to our bottom line. Unfortunately, the proposal the City received in late 2012 and, with much due diligence, considered until February 2013, was determined to not meet those criteria.

Over the last few months, the City has met with a number of for-profit and not-for-profit parties, all proposing an entertainment venue. We expect to see additional proposals this summer. City staff and the Council will carefully weigh the pros and cons of the proposals against any future investment of your tax dollars into this project we inherited. We will do this transparently with open meetings that allow for public comment and we will provide regular communication via the City website.

As I have said before, we as a City are not in the entertainment business.  I am thrilled with the community’s interest in the theater and encouraged by the enthusiasm of the ideas being proposed.  Let’s see what the market brings and identify the project that benefits our city the most.  It’s the responsible thing to do.

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