With nothing on the table to keep them in Forest Park and the lure of grant-funding to help outfit a larger performance space elsewhere, Circle Theatre board members said they are poised to sign a 10-year lease that will relocate the theater company to neighboring Oak Park. And one more piece to the puzzle may be falling into place now that the theater’s current Madison Street landlord is willing to consider tearing up their rental agreement.
Art Sundry, owner of the Hain Building that houses the theater at 7300 Madison St., holds a lease with Circle Theatre that guarantees the troupe a storefront stage in his building through the end of October 2010. That contract puts his tenant, a nonprofit group that relies heavily on grants and donations, on the hook for monthly payments. But following a request from the theater’s board of directors to be freed of their lease at the end of October this year, Sundry said he would “consider” granting the request in October 2009.
“That was fine with us,” said Rula Gardenier, the theater’s managing director. “We think that’s just fine. It’s not a bad deal.”
Sundry emphasized that he has not yet agreed to release the theater of its financial obligations to him, but said if Oak Park approves an estimated $212,000 in grants to help Circle Theatre pay for renovations to a vacant warehouse property at 217 Harrison St., he may do just that. Several factors will likely weigh heavily in Sundry’s decision, including whether he’s prepared to begin paying for renovations to the property.
Circle Theatre pays a steeply discounted rent to occupy most of the ground level in the Hain Building-a deal that was negotiated years ago on the theater’s behalf in-part by village officials.
“When you buy a building, you buy an income stream,” Sundry said.
The Hain Building has been home to Circle Theatre for roughly 18 years, and also houses a video store and 22 residential apartments.
Before the Oak Park village board releases any grant-funding to the theater, the municipality first wants to see a lease between that organization and Chris Kleronomos. Kleronomos owns the warehouse at 217 Harrison St. in which Circle Theatre would relocate.
“[The grants] will coincide with Circle and the property owner agreeing on a lease, so we’re working on all of the arrangements so we’re ready to put it in front of the board as soon as it’s finalized,” said Loretta Daly, Oak Park’s business services manager.
Kevin Bellie, the artistic director at Circle Theatre, said a letter of intent with Kleronomos is being finalized. The tentative agreement calls for a 10-year deal with two five-year options.
Gardenier and Bellie are hoping to begin production in Oak Park by December and plan to operate out of both locations. The Harrison Street property is expected to give the theater an additional 40 seats over the Madison Street space. Their ability to sell those extra tickets night in and night out will be crucial to covering expenses, said Bellie. Also, Circle Theatre has upped its fundraising goal in connection with the planned relocation and is shooting for at least $500,000.
Since the Hain Building changed hands some six months ago, a number of public officials in Forest Park have voiced their support for retaining Circle Theatre. However, said Bellie, there still have been no substantive discussions with community leaders to that end.
Wednesday Journal reporter Marty Stempniak contributed to this report.