It’s been several months since the Hain Building changed hands last summer, but the hand-wringing over the building’s primary tenant seems to be just beginning. Circle Theatre has occupied a first-floor storefront in the Madison Street property for some 18 years, but is now considering a number of options with respect to relocating. At the top of that list appears to be the village of Oak Park, which has offered to throw a pile of money at the non-profit performance group.
The village board in Oak Park is right to recognize the important role that money will play in the theater’s decision, and appears ready to offer $212,000 that would largely cover infrastructure improvements to a warehouse at 217 Harrison St. The concept of using public funds to recruit private industry is not new.
For its part, the theater expects to raise $250,000 in donations over the next six to 12 months.
In the short-term, these funds would cover the estimated $372,000 needed to build a new theater within the Harrison Street property. However, Circle Theatre is counting on larger audiences in the coming years to pay an annual rent of $84,000 and property taxes totaling some $15,000 at the Oak Park location.
Those figures dwarf the theater’s current lease agreement in Forest Park, for which it pays a meager $38,000 a year. If village hall wishes to get a word in edgewise and make a pitch for keeping the theater in Forest Park, the appeal will likely need to be directed at the bottom line. There’s something to be said for the intrinsic value of the long-standing relationship Circle Theatre has with Forest Park, but much of that goodwill stemmed from the theater’s quirky artistry in a town devoid of such outlets. Over the last 10 years the village has seen a number of creative industries take root, which makes the theater less unique as a standalone attraction.
However, if it’s not the village’s intent to make a play for Circle Theatre, that needs to be expressed at least to the parties involved. It would certainly be disappointing to lose this cultural gem, but Forest Park is not the town it was 23 years ago when the theater was founded. For both the theater and Madison Street, the show will go on.
Company members at the theater recently criticized village hall-and the mayor in particular-for not jumping in with both feet to try and keep Circle Theatre in Forest Park. Meanwhile village officials have barbed Oak Park for stealing one of the town’s treasures. Before the rhetoric goes any further, Forest Park needs to position itself as a contender or get off the stage. Here’s hoping it’s not too late to make up some ground before Oak Park closes the deal.