Herald-Whig View

Cost is big question in Washington Theater plans

Posted: Aug. 26, 2018 12:01 am

THE Washington Theater Redevelopment Commission is attempting to jump-start its two-decades-old effort to transform the historic building in downtown Quincy into a performing arts and entertainment venue.

The commission announced last week it will sponsor two musical events -- one next month and the second in April -- in hopes of raising $100,000 to pay for an updated architectural plan that will outline how much money ultimately will be needed to complete renovations to the 94-year-old theater.

Clearly, the cost of rehabilitation is critical in determining whether the once ornate theater that was such a vital part of Quincy's past could yet play an important role in the city's future as an entertainment venue that could anchor the Arts Corridor and spur further downtown development.

The commission has been down this road before.

A 2006 market analysis and feasibility study by a Toronto consulting firm indicated that the Washington Theater had a viable potential for development as an entertainment complex and community center.

Consultant Janis Barlow said the theater would fill a niche by providing a space for events seating between 750 and 1,000 people. She also said surveys showed there would be sufficient interest to use the theater for cultural presentations, film exhibitions and rental uses.

At that time, renovation costs were estimated to be between $5 million and $8 million.

Two years later, a Texas architectural firm recommended the renovation project be expanded by acquiring another building immediately to the west of the theater at 431-435 Hampshire. That idea, ultimately rejected, would have added $2.7 million to the cost of restoring the original theater to pristine condition.

However, the economic downturn in 2009 put the clamps on revenue and spending across the nation, and donations to charitable causes declined sharply. That stalled commission efforts to raise multiple millions of dollars to help launch renovations.

Now, the commission hopes a new architectural plan will help set the stage for a communitywide fund drive that could begin as early as next year.

Washington Theater opened June 19, 1924. After years of hosting live performances by entertainers and musical acts, the theater was transformed into a movie house. It closed in September 1982. Several attempts at other uses for the building were unsuccessful, and the building fell into disrepair.

The city approved $100,000 in bonds for the theater in November 1999 and spent $107,000 to buy the building from Sun West Corp. in 2000 after the city had sold the building to Sun West for $1 in 1987. Sun West made repairs and operated businesses out of the building.

The city received a $223,537 federal grant and $500,000 in Illinois FIRST money in 2003 to help finance some of the initial redevelopment costs, including roof repairs, tuckpointing, and renovating the theater's entry and marquee.

Three electronic digital message boards were installed on the front and both sides of the marquee in 2009 at a cost of $243,000, money secured through grants. The work also included cleaning and stabilizing the terra cotta and brick and doing some touch-up painting.

Now as then, it would be far better to restore the theater as a viable entertainment venue if the community financially supports such a plan.

In that capacity the theater would advance the district's role as an arts and entertainment corridor, as outlined in the 1996 downtown redevelopment plan drafted by Teska and Associates and reinforced by the city's latest strategic plan.

Furthermore, an active theater venue would help support other downtown commercial and residential developments and would foster additional interest in the area.

Raising the money necessary to commission a new architectural study is the next step in determining the future of Washington Theater.

Only after the costs are known can the community make an informed decision about whether to tackle renovations.