Council set to OK money for Woodstock Theatre
The Woodstock City Council came to a consensus to provide financial assistance to Tivoli Enterprises, owners of Woodstock Theatre, that will help to pay for the cinema’s expansion project.
The company asked the city to pay the costs for necessary public right-of-way construction as well as to purchase and take ownership of the pedestrian walkway created by the expansion. The cost for these two components is expected to be $176,755 and $219,749, respectively.
“We have been struggling with how to make this economically viable,” said Willis Johnson, president of Classic Cinemas. “We did bid the job in 2010 … At that time, it was deemed by us to be [too expensive].”
In 2008, Classic Cinemas presented a plan to renovate the current theater space as well as constructed new space north of the theater. The company purchased the city-owned Main Street parking lot, as well as three additional properties at 223, 225 and 229 Main St. These properties would be demolished as part of the plan. A pedestrian walkway would be constructed between Main Street and the existing Throop Street parking lot. The city approved plans that would allow for a proposed reconfiguration and expansion that would result in a total of eight auditoriums, doubling the current amount. A reconfiguration of the ticketing, lobby, concession and bathroom areas also were included in the plan.
In August 2010, Johnson said Classic Cinemas received a low bid of about $4.38 million to complete the construction. Another $1.5 million would be needed for furniture, fixtures and equipment. Based on those numbers, the project did not justify the investment, Johnson said.
A new company, G2 Builders, emerged with an unsolicited bid of about $3.29 million, more than a million dollars below the previous low bid.
At the time, Johnson said the bid appeared “too good to be true.” After checking out the company and its references, Johnson said G2 Builders was hired to complete an expansion at the York Theater in Elmhurst.
“We were pleased with the quality of their work,” said Johnson, noting the project was on time and on budget.
Johnson said the expansion should bring additional theatergoers and sales taxes to the downtown.
“More and more downtowns today are becoming dining and entertainment destinations,” he said. “Theaters drive people to them.”
He said the new building will have a positive impact on the tax increment within the tax increment financing district.
“The city should recover the amount [invested] within about six years,” Johnson said.
According to city estimates, the expansion is expected to create an annual increase of $66,662 in TIF collections.
“The times call for us to be forward thinking in terms of economic growth and development,” said Mayor Brian Sager before giving support to the request. “I was surprised the proposal [for the financial assistance] was so palatable for me.”
Council member Maureen Larson called the theater “the heartbeat of the Square” and said her only concern was cash flow and how funding may impact other projects in the TIF district, namely the Old Courthouse Building renovations.
“The city administration views this as cost-neutral,” said Roscoe Stelford, deputy city manager. If the theater expansion does not move forward, the city will incur no costs. If it does, the city will see additional TIF money in subsequent years.
Council member Mike Turner said he was supportive of the plan based on the city’s projections for TIF collection increases.
“That’s a six-year return [on investment],” Turner said. “At the end of the day, that’s all I need to hear.”
Despite voicing support for the proposal, council member Julie Dillon said she would like to see more special events taking place at the theater.
“I want to know Tivoli is going to make Woodstock a priority,” she said. “I really want to see something come back to us [in the form of special screenings].”
Should the City Council approve the financial assistance at a future meeting, and the project moves forward, the total investment from Classic Cinemas is projected to be $4,793,215, less the $396,504 in city costs. The numbers do not include land purchases or recent upgrades to digital projection at the current theater. Completed design and engineering also are not included.
Classic Cinemas is hoping to have the project completed by the end of 2013.