Committee to look at Hemmens options
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media September 25, 2013 4:16PM
The Hemmens Cultural Center in downtown Elgin. A committee will look at new ways to use the 40-year-old, city-owned building. | Sun-Times Media file photo.
Updated: October 28, 2013 7:13AM
ELGIN — A year after Elgin made the Hemmens Cultural Arts Center a rental-only facility and discontinued offering city-sponsored shows at the 40-year-old building, the city has seen a $500,000 savings, officials said Wednesday.
Now, an ad hoc committee including community residents and possibly the building’s original architects will formed to help the City Council determine how to best use the Hemmens in the future, the council determined during a special committee meeting Wednesday.
At one point, said City Manager Sean Stegall, the city was subsidizing the Hemmens and its programming by $850,000 or more each year. In the past year, however, the Hemmens was made rental only and no more discounts were given to nonprofit organizations for renting the building. That subsidy is down to about $370,000, Stegall said.
“That was a success. The experiment worked” to make the building a rental facility, Stegall said.
The question now, he said, is what the city can do, or wants to do, with the aging center.
He did address the term often thrown around about the Hemmens — that it is “functionally obsolete.”
While that doesn’t mean the building is falling apart, he said, it does mean that it has its issues.
A 2008 study on the Hemmens called the building “operationally obsolete,” given the “arts programming goals identified by the city” at that time, according to information provided by Stegall to the council.
That same study said there were too few seats in the 1,200-seat building for programming goals in 2008. It is too small for large acts, and too big for small acts to use the building, he said.
Those experts also said a new performing arts building could cost $80 million, renovating the existing building could cost $100 million, and that the building’s foundation likely could not absorb the load of a new structure on that site, Stegall said.
But it isn’t time to discuss a new performing arts building, Stegall said.
Council members said they want to ensure that the current building is bringing something back to the community, too.
By doing nothing with the Hemmens other than rentals, residents are getting nothing for their subsidy, said Council Member Anna Moeller.
“We are spending money but not getting a benefit from having the facility as it is now,” Moeller said.
Residents aren’t getting musical or comedy acts and Elgin isn’t getting the additional revenue of people dining at area restaurants before or after those shows either, she said.
Mayor David Kaptain suggested the ad hoc committee, and including the Charles Burnidge and David Cassell — architects in Elgin who designed the building.
The Elgin Symphony Orchestra, which recently saw its bulk renter rate reinstated as part of an agreement to repay the city for past rent, also should be involved in that committee, as should the Cultural Arts Commission and others with a interest in providing performing arts, Kaptain aid.
“We have talent in this community that reaches beyond our own boundaries,” Kaptain said. “We have volunteers from our community to do that.”
The committee will be asked to consider working with a promoter or other possible ways to help bring both acts and patrons to the Hemmens.
A resolution creating the ad hoc committee will appear on a future city council agenda.