Boon Year for the Rialto: 54% Hike in Revenue, Endowment Plan Almost Set

Theater undergoing extensive exterior repair work as officials get ready to replace the old marquee with a new electronic LED model.

Ask Randy Green who should get the credit for the Rialto Square Theatre’s blockbuster 2011-12 season, which wraps up this month, and he’ll give you three names:

Glen Campbell, Carol Burnett and Jerry Seinfield.

Three huge acts bringing in big sell-out crowds helped the theater take in $800,000 over the previous year, Rialto General Manager Green said. That’s a year-to-year increase of 54 percent, with income escalating from $1.475 million to $2.275 million, he said.

And even if you take those three acts out of the equation, the Rialto still earned 8 percent more than it did in the 2010-11 season, Green said.

“People are still seeking out entertainment,” he said. “They’re just being more selective and they don't (go out) as often as they had been.”

Green speculates that pocketbook-conscious consumers may be more attracted to Rialto shows than in those in downtown Chicago because you spend less but still get acts that could have easily played the big city. When you factor in such things as gas, parking, baby-sitting and dinner out, the cost difference can be substantial, he said.

That the shows did so well this year – the same in which the city of Joliet reduced its financial support of the Rialto from $700,000 to $600,000 – was another blessing, Green said. The theater had already trimmed $100,000 from its spending plan through job attrition, rebidding of utility and insurance plans and other cuts, but there’s never a guarantee that any show will sell or income will remain stable, he said.

“It a very complex method of financing the Rialto,” he said. “We get revenue from ticket sales, rental fees, the bar and concessions, commercial office space,” any of which can fluctuate from year to year.

And booking shows that you think will attract an audience is a little like looking into a crystal ball, he said. Someone like Carol Burnett is a safe bet, but it took the theater three years to secure her appearance, he said. Other programs, such as the Queen tribute show “One Night of Queen,” take time – maybe two or three years -- to find an audience and fill the theater, he said.

And some acts run out of steam. There’s less interest in classic rock bands, for example, because the number of groups available is declining and because so many are playing summer festivals, reducing the audience willing to pay a steeper ticket price to see them again, Green said.

Comedy has proven very lucrative, something the Rialto is trying to capitalize on this year with the new . For three weeks in October, they’ll bring in brand-name performers, including Adam Carolla, Lisa Lampanelli and Cheech & Chong, as well as lesser-known acts. If it proves successful, they’ll try to make it a standing event, Green said.

But the theater is hedging its bet by seeking donations for a $1 million endowment, which will help generate annual investment income and will allow the theater to bring in smaller or more eclectic acts it might not ordinarily pursue, he said.

Thus far, they’ve secured more than $600,000 in endowment contributions and there is an anonymous donor willing to pledge $100,000 if theater officials can collect the remaining $300,000 by year’s end, he said.

Meanwhile, the theater continues to spend the $5 million it raised in its last capital campaign. Most of the theater’s interior infrastructure improvements have been completed, and work is beginning now on the building’s exterior. This summer and next, workers will be tuck-pointing, doing masonry work and repairing façade weaknesses using a bucket crane, Green said.  

Plans are also being made for the biggest improvement planned: A new LED marquee that will replace the old-fashioned letter board. Although bids have not gone out for the work, it’s expected to cost somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000, Green said. The red behind the “Rialto” will also be repainted, he said.

“It will be a new design in keeping with the era (in which the theater was built) but with a 21st century message board,” Green said.

To read more about the Rialto’s upcoming 2012-13 season, click .


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