Despite high tax bills, Des Plaines City Council buys theater for $1.3M

Despite high tax bills, Des Plaines City Council buys theater for $1.3M

Local leaders are putting taxpayers on the hook for a development gamble.

Taxpayers are now the owners of a shuttered theater, after a Feb. 20 vote by the Des Plaines City Council.

Aldermen voted 7-1 to buy the Des Plaines Theatre for just under $1.3 million, with local residents potentially on the hook for additional renovation costs of more than $1 million, according to the Daily Herald. Rivers Casino is a partner in the deal and will share a portion of those costs.

This move comes shortly after city officials attempted in December to force the sale of the property via eminent domain proceedings.

Beyond the cost of the property itself, Des Plaines will hire an architect as well as a manager to book shows at the theater, according to the Daily Herald.

“I don’t believe that this theater’s going to really, really generate as much as we all think,” said Alderman Dick Sayad. He was the only alderman who voted against acquiring the theater, which has not been in operation since 2014. The fact that a private interest has been unwilling to shoulder the full cost of buying and renovating the theater is one signal that it could turn out to be a raw deal for taxpayers.

But proponents have already ceded the argument that the theater won’t generate a profit.

“Even if we don’t make money on this facility, it will serve as an attraction to bring people downtown,” said Alderman Malcolm Chester, according to the Daily Herald.

Ultimately, the risk of owning and operating an entertainment venue will fall squarely on the backs of property taxpayers. In Cook County, where Des Plaines is located, the median property tax bill is more than $4,500, according to 2011-2015 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In recent years, county residents shave seen their property tax burdens rise as their home values fell in the wake of the Great Recession.

Des Plaines resident Teresa Fiorante is desperate for property tax relief.

“My property taxes have doubled, and it’s going to force me out of my home,” she said. “It’s like they have a gun to your head: Pay this bill or leave the state.”

Illinois’ local governments – which have too often proven incapable of basic fiscal responsibility – should not be experimenting in the entertainment business at taxpayer expense.

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