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City considers restoring DeKalb Theatre sign

DeKALB – Brendon Gallagher looks back fondly on his time at the DeKalb Theatre.

Dubbed the “Theatre of Tomorrow” when it was built in 1948, Gallagher remembers seeing a James Bond movie with his dad when he was a kid and looking at the black-and-white photos of Clark Gable and Betty Davis hanging on its walls.

The theater is long gone, but the DeKalb sign and its marquee are still intact. Now, as the 4th Ward alderman on the DeKalb City Council, Gallagher is pushing to have the sign restored using tax increment financing money.

“I think it’s a worthwhile thing to preserve,” said Gallagher, noting its size and how it advertises the city.

Allied with Gallagher is Tom Rogers, who owns the business that occupies the building at 145 N. Third St. – Debutante’s School of Cosmetology and Nail Technology.

“I really think of it as a city landmark,” Rogers said of the sign. “I see this as part of its history and its heritage.”

Rogers’ daughters, Jaime, Sarah and Becky, run Debutante’s. When the school opened in October 2008, they had three students; now, they have 70.

Rogers and Gallagher made their case Monday night at the City Council’s committee of the whole meeting, arguing for the city to spend $90,500 in TIF funds for the restoration.

Gallagher said the council already has spent a lot of money on other downtown restoration projects, and by comparison, this project is relatively cheap.

Without city support, Rogers said he cannot restore the sign at present, although he may be able to in the future.

Aldermen Monday voiced support for the project, but there were questions they wanted answered before moving forward.

City Manager Mark Biernacki said city staff is researching the pros and cons of replacing the sign with a replica or renovating and restoring the current one.

Rogers said he preferred to see the sign replicated because it would be stronger and look better visually.

“I get that restoration sounds more historically and architecturally pure, but the replica would give you 100 percent of the look,” Rogers said.

The look of the sign is what matters the most to Rogers. Rogers said he wants the sign to remind people of where they were when they first saw it. It’s because of this that Rogers wants a neon sign, not an LED one.

Rogers acknowledged neon would be more expensive than LED. The city is estimating the utility cost of the sign to be at least $2,000 a year. But Rogers said it was necessary.

“I want it to look the way it looked,” Rogers said. “I don’t want to compromise.”

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