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Can the Grand Theater be saved? Du Quoin landmark to be auctioned in 3 weeks

  • An auction sign went up this week on The Grand Theater, a Du Quoin landmark for over a century.

    An auction sign went up this week on The Grand Theater, a Du Quoin landmark for over a century.
    Norma Tackett photo

  • The Grand Theater in downtown Du Quoin has sat dormant since 2015.

    The Grand Theater in downtown Du Quoin has sat dormant since 2015.
    Geoffrey Ritter photo

Posted on 8/1/2018, 2:28 AM

DU QUOIN -- A landmark of Du Quoin's downtown is on the auction block, and prospects for its survival are growing dim.

The Grand Theater, which opened in 1914 with 900 seats, is one of the last of the small-town, Art Deco-style movie houses left in Illinois. It closed its doors on Sept. 15, 2015.

Jeffrey Ashauer, who consults with the city on economic development, said Du Quoin did a feasibility analysis over the past year, and a structural engineer determined it would cost about $1 million just to bring the theater up to code, without factoring in the money needed to make the theater a viable business again.

"The roof is in pretty bad shape and would have to be replaced," Ashauer said. He added that a portion of the north end of the building would have to be demolished and a new wall put up.

"You're looking at just shy of $1 million," he said.

Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said the city has looked at options and alternatives for the theater.

"At this point, it's just not there for the city," he said. "We just don't have deep enough pockets to bring it up to standard."

Ashauer said the cost of bringing the Grand up to standards would deplete the city's available funds.

"We have $100,000 in our TIF account," he said. "We would have to use every penny of that for the next 10 years just to bring the building to code."

Alongi said the city has talked to people, and tried to attract interest in the old theater, to no avail.

"We have exhausted every means at our disposable trying to find a use for that building," he said.

Both Ashauer and Alongi said the city is committed to Du Quoin's downtown.

"We've spent $2.3 million renovating the downtown," Ashauer said, noting new sidewalks, streets and crosswalks. "The cost of one building at nearly $1 million is a huge mountain to climb."

Without someone coming forward to repair it, the building is also at risk of becoming a danger to the public, Ashauer added.

"The north third of the building is in danger of falling in," he said. "If bricks start falling on the sidewalk, we'll have to condemn it."

Alongi said that even though the theater's owner, Regions Bank, offered it to Du Quoin, he doesn't believe he can justify the expense of the needed repairs.

"I'm supposed to be a steward of the city's finances," he said. "I don't think the citizens would want me to bankrupt the city to save one building."

Alongi also said he expects native Du Quoin residents to have a lot of emotional attachment to the theater, and that some will urge the city to preserve it.

"If they want to raise $1 million and give it to me, I'll try to do something with it," he said.

Ashauer added that the initial $1 million outlay would be just the beginning. New theater seats would also be needed, and would cost about $70,000.

Regions Bank, which holds the title, has contracted with John Dixon and Associates out of Marietta, Georgia, to hold auction. Bob Green, who manages multiseller auctions for that firm, confirmed that the building is set for "absolute" auction at 2 p.m. on Aug. 23.

"It is absolute," said Green. "The high bidder will buy it. The price is not important. The bank is just interested in getting rid of it."

Green said the auction will be both live and simulcast online. Bidders will be in front of a computer and be able to respond in real time.

Auction details will should go up on the company's website, in about two weeks, so interested parties can read the terms and conditions of the auction. A spokesperson for the bank could not be reached for comment.

Du Quoin's study also determined there is no little or no chance the Grand could be a successful movie theater anymore.

"The movie industry overall is not growing substantially, certainly not in this area," Ashauer said, pointing out that Carbondale lost half of its 16 movie screens when AMC closed the University Mall location.

He said the study showed that the area's major movie market, 18- to 44-year-olds, was dominated by AMC in Carbondale, and indicated that people won't drive more than about 10 minutes to see a movie.

Ashauer said they learned that operating a movie theater for people under 17 and over 45 was not feasible.

"It (the building) could be a lot of things, but a movie theater is not likely," he said.

Saving the glorious old movie palaces has been a tough road for many Illinois communities. Most have been demolished, and the ones that survive do so because they are publicly supported, and host community theater and other local events.

One rare success story is in Barrington, Illinois, where the beloved Catlow Theater still shows first run movies. When the Catlow needed $100,000 to convert their equipment to digital, they raised it in seven days through a GoFundMe campaign.

Josh Benson, now the executive director of the Marion Cultural and Civic Center, worked as the assistant manager at the Grand from 2002 until 2006.

"Business was slow," he said. "I don't remember ever having a sell-out."

Benson said that the theater was owned by Herrin businessman, Bill Ivy, when he worked there, but was sold after Ivy died.

Benson said that while the exterior facade "is beautiful from an architectural standpoint," the building itself was not in great shape when he worked there.

"I know that the Baker family who purchased it did a lot of updates to make it a nice space," he said.

Benson added the Grand was designed by the same architects that built the Orpheum in Marion, now the site of the Marion Cultural and Civic Center.

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