DeKALB – Alex Nerad, executive director of the Egyptian Theatre, said there’s little staff can do to combat the heat and humidity during the summer months.
Nerad said electronics are unplugged and covered to protect them from dust, at least, but there continues to be a lot of damage to the decorative painting and plaster within the building at 135 N. Second St. while temperatures climb outside.
“It’s such a large building,” Nerad said. “There’s nothing we can do.”
Not only that, Nerad said, but a lot of local businesses are hurting in the summer when the theater isn’t open. He said that’s why it’s important to have the theater open year-round as soon as possible, and that having air conditioning will help accomplish that.
Nerad said he and his staff got a bid three years ago between $2.5 million and $3 million for replacing the theater’s HVAC unit to include air conditioning. He said theater administration requested tax increment financing funding from the city a couple of years ago, which led the City Council to conduct a feasibility study to get more information before taking any more action.
Nerad said the study came back in January 2017 and clearly showed the theater needs to be open year-round and needs air conditioning to operate during the summer. The study shows the theater receives $100,000 annually in TIF funds, which go toward capital expenses.
DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said the city has not taken an official stance in getting financially involved for the theater to get air conditioning. He said it’s up to theater staff to get the ball rolling on city funding for a new HVAC system.
“It’s pretty much in their court,” Smith said.
Nerad said theater staff members again have started up conversations with city staff about the Egyptian Theatre getting a new HVAC unit, and that he is in the process of gathering more information. He said he wants to have a formal conversation with the City Council about the city helping to fund the Egyptian getting air conditioning this summer and hopes to submit a request in the next couple of months to get city funding.
Jo Ellen Charlton, community development director for the city of DeKalb, said a request from the theater hasn’t gone through her department yet. She said city officials are eager to see the Egyptian Theatre succeed, and that she recognizes it as an important component of downtown recovery.
“Once we have the request itself, we will package it up and take it to the City Council,” Charlton said. “We’re looking to try and make it work to the benefit of all parties involved.”
In recent years, the city’s two TIF districts have generated between $6 million and $8 million in revenue.
The city allocated about $468,000 toward Sundog IT’s new office at 230 E. Lincoln Highway. Cornerstone DeKalb and Plaza DeKalb, two four-story apartment and commercial-use buildings currently under development, were made possible by a combined $5 million in TIF money – $3 million for the $7 million Cornerstone project and $1.9 million for the $6 million Plaza DeKalb project.
Nerad said the Egyptian Theatre had seven national touring acts during the 2016-17 season. This past season, he said, the theater had 27 national touring acts.
Nerad said most city staff, City Council members and the community as a whole identify the theater as an important component for overall downtown success. He said people are surprised as to the effect the theater has, and that it can have more of an effect if it can offer programming year-round.
“It seems like a no-brainer in terms of a return of investment for the community,” Nerad said.
Nerad said he plans on not exceeding $2.5 million for the project this time, hopefully with the help of city and private funding. He said several studies have shown that the Egyptian Theatre has a $2 million annual economic impact on the community, and that number will keep going up as programming increases.
“There’s not many other projects that you’re going to get a return on that quickly for a $2.5 million project,” Nerad said.
Once funding is approved, Nerad said, the theater is looking at four to six months of engineering and design updates to make sure everything is up to code for energy efficiency, after which the project will be put back out to bid.
Nerad said he hopes to have bids back by early next year and to make a decision with the real numbers in front of him. If the project moves forward, he said, the hope is to have work take place next spring and summer and have the work completed by fall 2019 so next year’s programming schedule won’t be disrupted.
“It definitely will be a challenging project, but it’s definitely one that we feel that we can move forward with,” Nerad said.