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Wayne's Words: The Making of a Better City

Wayne Horne | 2/3/2016, 7:51 p.m. | Updated on 2/4/2016, 10:48 a.m.
Following Mayor Bob O'Dekirk's state of the city address and its focus on revving up Joliet's economic development, columnist Wayne ...
Wayne Horne

Last week Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk's State of the City message touting successful gains in economic development presented a bright future for the City of Joliet. O'Dekirk also mentioned the city's plans to redevelop the Joliet City Center. One part of that plan will be the building of a new Will County courthouse in downtown Joliet. Another piece of that plan is the new train and bus station being built next to the old train station. Another major component of the downtown plan is the Rialto Square Theatre, the 'Jewel of Joliet.'

The city currently grants a $600,000 subsidy for operations at the historic theater. Even with the subsidy the theater continues to struggle. The Rialto Board has not yet adopted a budget for the fiscal year 2015. A draft of the budget was prepared last June but the board has not voted on it.

A Wayne's Words column from December 2014 compared the Rialto's marketing with that of the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. The Paramount is slightly smaller seating capacity than the Rialto yet it plays to an audience of 250,000 people annually compared to the Rialto's annual audience of 60,000 people. No doubt the difference in audience size has a great deal to do with the Rialto's financial woes.

According to documents obtained from the Will County Metropolitan Exposition Auditorium Authority, the governing body of the Rialto, it is the General Manager's job to achieve a successful marketing program that supports the theater operations. According to the General Managers job description, dated October 27,2010, it is also the General Manager's responsibility to create the most advantageous financial status for the WCMEAA's operations.

General Manager Randall Green has been employed by the WCMEAA since 2002. During much of that time he apparently worked without a contract according to information received from Rialto Finance Manager Dale Evans.

The info was part of a packet of material requested through a Freedom of Information request.

The Rialto website lists items such as agendas, minutes, budgets and audits but none of the requested documents were listed on the website. A copy of "the one and only Randall L. Green Employment Agreement from Jan 2011"

was included with the FOIA requested documents. The three-year contract provided for compensation of $135,000 plus "benefits provided to all other full time Employees" with the exception of health insurance. On January 1, 2014 Green's contract was extended another three years with an increase in compensation to $142,000. According to the information received no board vote was taken approving the extension.

According to minutes dated December 14,2010 from the Regular Meeting of the board Green's employment contract gave him the authority to contract for shows at the theater. Prior to the contract in January 2011 the General Manager had no written authority to contract for performances at the Rialto. The contract gave Green authority to contract artists up to $50,000 at his discretion. From $50,000 to $125,000 one additional approval was necessary from the Board Chair, Vice Chair, or Finance Committee Chair.

Also in the minutes, it was discussed that shows with a cost in excess of $125,000 were "unfeasible" due to the Rialto's low seating capacity. Perhaps it's time to consult with the Paramount in Aurora to determine how they

achieve an annual audience more than four times the size of the Rialto's in a smaller venue.

Perhaps Randy Green needs to intensify his commitment to meet the demands required at the Rialto. Is there a measure of success he's being held to? His contract expires at the end of 2016. Can he turn around the Rialto's

finances in that amount of time? The 'Jewel of Joliet" needs a lot more polish if it's going to shine.

One last thing ... now that Joliet Township has rejected turning Bi-Centennial Park into a more viable operation, what's next? Is it just the other bookend to the ballpark? Both entities are low use and high maintenance. Hard to make things work if they're not a priority. The beat goes on.

Stay tuned ... Comments? whorne@thetimesweekly.com