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Group aims to breathe life into Highland Park Theater

“This next step redevelopment HighlPark Movie Theater property has been done with careful consideratidue diligence” Mayor Nancy Rotering said. |

“This next step in the redevelopment of the Highland Park Movie Theater property has been done with careful consideration and due diligence,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said. | File

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Updated: December 2, 2013 12:02PM

Some Highland Park residents are hoping to raise $10 million in donations and pledges to renovate and reopen a revered downtown theater as a performing arts and film venue.

The Highland Park City Council Monday approved a pact with the Alycon Foundation that gives the group until Jan. 31 to demonstrate fundraising potential, with the ability to extend the timetable by 30 days.

Alcyon plans to hire a firm with extensive North Shore experience to conduct a feasibility study to gauge interest in contributing to the capital campaign.

“We will be interviewing 10 to 12 families and foundations,” said Kimberly Saccaro, a nonprofit executive who is spearheading the effort. “We will be focusing primarily on the ability to raise the capital in the community. That is something the city is looking for as well.”

The group has identified about $7 million in hard and soft constuction costs to renovate and build out the theater, which dates to 1929.

“In addition to that, we want to create some stability around the nonprofit itself with an endowment to provide ongoing maintenance for the theater,” Saccaro. “Initially, we would build in a couple of years of operating expenses.”

Organizers envision reopening the theater at 494 Central Ave. for live theater, music and dance performances; films and film festivals; educational programs and private events.

The foundation is proposing a long-term lease of the theater from the city. The city purchased the movie theater for $2.1 million in 2009 and continued showing films until building code violations came to light in mid-2012.

The foundation bears a similar name to Alcyon LLC, a private development venture that worked with the city from September 2012 through February 2013 on plans for a condominium, retail and theater development on a site that included an adjacent, city-owned parking lot.

Both groups picked up their names from the 1929 theater’s original nomenclature, the Alycon Theater. Council members let its agreement with Alcyon LLC lapse in late February, unhappy with the amount of financial assistance required from the city and the tentative nature of the theater proposal.

Five entities responded to the city’s latest request for written proposals. The Alcyon Foundation, AMC Entertainment and Big Rock LLC were selected for a second stage of discussions.

According to Mayor Nancy Rotering, AMC was not available to meet due to a private business decision. Big Rock LLC was proposing to purchase the theater for a minimal amount and create a modernized and renovated three- to five-screen movie theater. The group also wished to acquire a portion of the adjacent parking lot at below market value and include a new retail component.

“The city offered the theater partner of Big Rock the opportunity to discuss a more market-appropriate approach to purchasing the theater,” said Rotering.

But the partner wanted an exclusive agreement with the city or for the city to pay the cost of its due diligence.

In addition to Saccaro, the Alcyon Foundation group includes architect Jeremiah Diamond; attorneys Anthony Licata and Andrew Shapiro; theater professional Stacy Flaster and marketing executive Kelly Whittenbarger.

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