Plans for purchase of Wheaton Grand Theater; hope for larger economic impact

Many older American downtowns are looking for ways to bring in new business and revenues. One way to achieve this is to pursue entertainment opportunities. Here is how this is currently playing out in Wheaton, Illinois where there is a perspective buyer for the Wheaton Theater:

Downtown property owner and lifelong Wheaton resident Jim Atten said he has “verbally agreed” to buy the theater, constructed in 1925, from Elmhurst-based Suburban Bank and Trust.

“It’s going to take a while to do, but our plan is to turn it into a performing arts and movie theater,” Atten said…

Atten said, if the purchase goes through, an extensive fundraising effort will be launched to make a dent in the necessary repairs and remodeling in the building, which he estimated could be about $5 million…

The theater closed in the 1990s and after an unsuccessful attempt by the Wheaton Grand Theater Corp. to revive it by hosting concerts, the deed was given up to the bank after coming up short on a loan payment.

Last year, Wheaton voters rejected a proposal to let the city use $150,000 in public funds each year to renovate the building…

Still, [Wheaton mayor] Gresk said the expected purchase is a “wonderful, huge first step.”

We’ll see how this moves forward. The benefits of a theater for a smaller downtown could be large: theaters can generate money themselves but can also attract other business as theater goers eat and shop nearby, festivals could make use of the space (think film, music, art, and theater festivals), and this building could serve as an example of how to effectively remodel and utilize older spaces. Smaller downtowns need spaces like this to succeed, partly to help provide energy and people for all of the downtown but also to make good use of storefront space that might be difficult to fill with other uses.

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