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Madison Theater May Play Again

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For decades it played in Peoria. It had silent movies, talkies, later films like 1978’s Superman and, in the 1990s, live music. Once it closed in 2003, the 1920s theater looked like it might go the way of other Peoria picture palaces like The Apollo.

The past 12 years have seen efforts by the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation, various volunteer groups and, more recently, Peoria Assistant City Manager Chris Setti, to save and renovate the theater.

Now, it looks like those wishes and dreams of a restored Madison Theater may actually come to fruition.

The City of Peoria is in talks with The Kim Group, which deals in property management and real estate, to develop the parking lot at the corner of Madison Avenue and Hamilton Boulevard. The hope is that this new 12 to 14-story building will not only house successful businesses but also help bring people to a refurbished Madison Theater.

            After a Request for Proposal was issued by the City in October 2014, The Kim Group, led by Katie Arnholt Kim, was selected from the two offers the City received.

            “We had two strong proposals, but I think that The Kim Group’s proposal just was a little more complete and comprehensive,” Setti said. “She [Kim] had a good overall vision for the block, had some better numbers [and it was] just a little more solid a proposal. The other was a little more speculative.”

The Kim Group proposes to fill the parking lot building with retail, office space, residential units, restaurants and a parking deck. Kim is currently working with the city to iron out how she plans to accomplish and finance her vision for the parking lot space and the theater.

Having an entertainment venue the size of the Madison could greatly benefit downtown, but it will take a sophisticated and nuanced business plan to make it work, Setti says.

On its own, Setti believes restoring the Madison and making a profit running it would be difficult due to the millions of dollars it would take just to renovate it. The combination of the theater renovation and a mixed-use building next door is what can make it work and possibly change the downtown dynamic.

Profits gained from the parking lot complex, for example, can help make up for financial losses from the Madison. The adjacent building could also fuel vitality by already having an audience that works and/or lives near the theater.

“I reject the notion that Peoria can’t sustain the theater, because I think we’ve been supporting live music at the Civic Center, at Limelight, at CEFCU Center Stage,” Setti said. “I think there’s plenty of opportunity and there’s plenty of market for good product, but I do think it helps to have an entire package.”

The theater will have to be home to different types of events to stay sustainable, Kim said. Three to five different companies would rotate through the space each week. One business can use it on Mondays and Tuesdays, another Thursday through Saturday, etc.

Kim wants a venue that hosts something every night of the week, rather than a weekends only. She thinks Peoria needs events happening throughout the week to keep people coming downtown.

The plan is to make the Madison usable for the whole community. Kim wants it to have events for young families, young professionals, empty nesters, the foodies, theater lovers and the list goes on.

Having a vibrant downtown is crucial, too, she said. Places for people to eat beforehand or a place to get drinks afterward are needed for the Madison to succeed. As part of a three-part project Kim is calling The Third Act, an underused block of Main Street will see new retail, restaurants and residential buildings that will aid in this endeavor.

The parking lot complex will benefit in that way, too. Besides bringing people closer to the Madison by having people working or living next door, the complex will have a restaurant or two people can go to after a Madison event.

If the city is able to make a deal with The Kim Group and all else goes as hoped, construction on the parking lot space and Madison renovation would start late this year with completion within 18 months, but it could take as long as three years.

Timing is of the essence now, Kim said. The longer it takes to start on the project, the greater the risk that parts of the building will get even worse. The problem is bringing the right people into town who can do the skilled plastering work needed.

There are people who have stepped up to help with the project. Clint Drury, assistant director of the West Central Illinoi Building and Construction Trade Council, has offered the council’s resources, local banks have offered to help with the numbers; and the CILF has volunteered to run fundraisers for certain items like a chandelier or a curtain.

 “We’ve had so people come back and say ‘I can’t give a huge monetary donation but I’d love to give something or I’d love to help you clean up the building or whatever you need to make this happen again,’” Kim said. “We get calls like that all the time.”

After getting involved in the project, Kim discovered her great grandfather had done some ornamental plastering within the building and, having a special relationship with her great grandfather, that served as a motivation to revive the theater. There are so many other Peorians who care about the Madison and have a history with it, as well.

 “[People] will send me picture of proms,” Kim said. “They’re sending me pictures of the cotillion balls. You don’t really realize how much of Peoria’s history is in the Madison until people start talking.”


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