Highland Park theater proposal under study
Developers Steve Korol (left) and Daniel Slack of Alcyon LLC stand in front of the Highland Park Theater on Aug. 30, 2012. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 16, 2013 4:47PM
HIGHLAND PARK — Longtime North Shore residents have a sentimental attachment to the Highland Park Theater that is sure to surface as city officials and the Alcyon LLC development group scrutinize a proposal to retain the theater as an entertainment venue as part of a mixed-use redevelopment.
“Anybody of a certain age will remember first dates up in the balcony, or watching cartoons in the afternoons on weekends,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering noted last year during a tour of the theater at 445 Central Ave.
“It’s a tremendous space with a great history.”
Alcyon developer Steven Korol recalls going to the Highland Park Theater back when it showed bargain movies for $1 and, naturally, walking away with chewing gum stuck to the bottom of his shoes.
But city officials also know that too much is riding on future decisions regarding the theater and the mixed-use development to let emotion prevail.
“To me it is something of a math equation,” said Rotering, hastening to add that the prospect of a cultural center anchoring the east end of downtown also is appealing. The city of Highland Park purchased the struggling, historic theater for $2.1 million in 2009 to protect the asset from unrestricted development.
As Rotering put it recently, “We all at this moment own this theater.”
In late August, the Highland Park City Council entered into a memorandum of understanding with Alcyon LLC, a firm interested in converting the theater into an entertainment and meeting venue with 500 to 600 seats.
A municipal parking lot adjacent to the theater would be developed into 45 condominium units with ground-floor retail space. To offset the lost parking, a single-story deck would be added to another parking lot across the street.
The City has hired an independent consultancy, Gruen + Gruen, to analyze the financial forecasts and whether revenue generated by the development would support the project.
“The idea of this is that as the development generates revenue through the entertainment venue, retail sales taxes and property taxes, those would be put back into the project to generate support,” said Michael Blue, the city’s director of community development.
“I am hoping the numbers at Gruen + Gruen prove it can happen,” said council member Steven Mandel. “It has been a long time to get this out of the box.”
Two developers from Baker Development Corp., Korol, of Highland Park, and Daniel Slack of Deerfield, are spearheading Alycon LLC, which took its name from the theater’s original nomenclature in the late 1920s.
Asked if their own numbers suggested the project can work, Slack said, “We wouldn’t have made the effort we did if we didn’t think the project was financially viable.”
Korol said no one wants to see the city on the hook for decisions that were based on faulty assumptions.
“What everyone wants to be sure of,” he said, “is that three, five or 10 years from now, the assumptions were reasonably in line and the city is not funding or subsidizing the operations.”