A local real estate developer confirmed he is nearing a deal to purchase the Hain Building at 7300 Madison St. as tenants of the mixed-use property begin speaking publicly about what they describe as a hushed transaction.
The address is home to the Circle Theater performance company, a video rental store and several low income apartments on the second floor. The managing director for the theater, Rula Sirhan Gardenier, made the first public announcement regarding the property in an interview with the Review last week. Though board members for the theater said they understood the building had been sold, the prospective buyer said he hasn’t actually closed on the property.
“Currently it’s all in negotiations,” Robert Marani said. “It’s not 100 percent a done deal.”
Marani declined to comment on how he might use the property, but confirmed that he is in negotiations with the current owner, Greg Paulus of Alechri Properties. A $1.2 million mortgage for the building is held by the Midwest Bank and Trust Co., according to public records maintained by the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
Paulus is also a member of the Circle Theater board of directors. He did not respond to several requests for an interview.
Suspicion that a deal was in the works has spread despite the parties’ best efforts to keep their discussions quiet. Frank Romero, the owner of All Star Video and a 23-year tenant of the building, said he had a hunch the property was changing hands after Paulus was reportedly showing the building at odd hours. According to Romero, his landlord repeatedly told him it was “for insurance purposes.”
Kevin Bellie is the artistic director for Circle Theater and sits alongside Paulus on the board of directors. Despite repeated inquiries, Bellie said, Paulus has been tight-lipped on whether he was trying to sell. The lack of communication between Paulus and the theater company isn’t unusual, though, Bellie said.
The performance group makes for an unusual tenant, in that every few weeks they reconstruct the interior of the property, knocking down walls and rebuilding as needed. No doubt, this has caused Paulus some stress, Bellie said. Conversely, Bellie faulted Paulus for being a less than perfect landlord.
Circle Theater is approximately half way through a five-year lease agreement for the space in the Hain Building. All Star Video, Romero said, does not have a lease agreement.
Mayor Anthony Calderone said he too, is aware of the pending deal and said a primary concern of his is seeing Circle Theater remain in the community. The non-profit troupe serves as a destination that draws new customers onto Madison Street and adds a splash of culture to the bar-heavy corridor.
“If I have any input into some of those discussions, they know I’m interested in seeing Circle Theater remain there,” Calderone said.
An infusion of new money could bring some much needed renovation to the Hain Building, Calderone said, as the property continues to suffer from a lack of reinvestment. The mayor said he has heard talk of renovating at least the upstairs portion of the building into a boutique hotel.
Until a deal is finalized on the property, Marani said he would not discuss potential uses for the property, nor the prospects of retaining Circle Theater as a tenant. He did, however, call the group a “mainstay and destination” in Forest Park.
Though the mayor cannot dictate the terms of a private real estate deal, Bellie credited Calderone and former Main Street president Art Jones with helping the theater broker a favorable lease agreement in years past. The theater gets a significant discount on its rent from the market rate and in return is charged with funding improvements when it can. In the last year Circle Theater invested some $60,000 into the property, largely for a new air conditioning system, Bellie said.
When push comes to shove in negotiations between the theater and the new owner, Bellie said Calderone may have some considerable influence.
“I think he has some pretty good strings to pull when it comes to that point,” Bellie said.
In the meantime, Circle Theater has already begun talks with property owners in Forest Park and other nearby communities in the event it is booted from Madison Street. Should the property be renovated into condos, Bellie said the board is prepared to make an offer on the space it currently occupies.
Circle Theater has occupied the Madison Street address for the last 18 years and though he doesn’t anticipate a move as being too problematic, Bellie said there is an affinity for Forest Park.
“I kind of like being one of the few arts organizations in Forest Park,” Bellie said. “It makes us special.”