Wayne's Words: Poll 60-40 against city owning Rialto Theatre

Wayne Horne | 12/15/2016, 6 a.m.
The City of Joliet wants to “takeover” the Rialto Theatre. Seems we’ve been down this road before. “It’s like déjà ...

The City of Joliet wants to “takeover” the Rialto Theatre. Seems we’ve been down this road before. “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” only the situation is somewhat reversed. About 15 months ago, Dan Vera, Joliet Township Supervisor, offered to “takeover” the much-neglected Joliet Bicentennial Park from the city. The city had neglected needed maintenance of park facilities for several years. The fountain located in the park was not operable and had been filled with gravel to prevent any further deterioration. The theater building’s roof leaked in addition to other problems needing attention.

In February of this year the township decided not to pursue what was being called a partnership with Joliet to arrange for entertainment and special events in the park. The city showed limited interest in the idea and the township withdrew the offer. The matter was dropped. The arrangement was unlikely to be approved by the city anyway according to public discussion at the time.

City Manager, Jim Hock’s, recent proposal regarding the Rialto takeover pits the theater’s board, led by Dan Vera, against Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and the City Council. So far, the city has been unwilling to fund a $500,000 subsidy requested by the Rialto organization for this year. In the past, the City Council has granted that request to the tune of approximately $6 million to date. The Rialto Board has shown no interest in the City’s proposal, so far. It’s a different venue but many of the same players are involved.

The City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday this week to discuss the intergovernmental agreement with the Rialto Board. The outcome of the meeting was not known at the time this column was written, but suffice to say not everyone will be pleased by the decision that is made.

The lead off quote this column started with is from one-time player and manager of the New York Yankees, Yogi Berra. His contribution to baseball is said to be incalculable but his contribution of sayings to our language seem more profound. Especially when the subject is government and politics. He also said “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

That seems applicable to the situation with the Rialto. For years, the Rialto Theatre has been struggling financially due to poor management and an unsustainable business model. It remains to be seen whether or not the venue can recover sufficiently to remain open. It is also questionable whether or not the City of Joliet taking over the Rialto is a good idea.

The City is the owner of many assets in Joliet that have nothing to do with its core responsibility as a municipality. The core obligation of any municipal government is police and fire protection, public works, and public safety through regulations and ordinances safeguarding businesses and residents. Could they be doing a better job on the core responsibilities for less money if they just concentrated on those objectives?