Rivoli Theatre finally cleared for comeback

A legal battle that had threatened the landmark Rivoli Theatre has been settled, and a $300,000 grant has been secured to begin stabilizing the East 10th Street structure.

The Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts Inc., the not-for-profit that owns the building at 3155 E. 10th St., on June 8 cleared what it believes will be the last legal hurdle posed by Charles R. Chulchian, the one-time owner of the property.

REW_rivoli_15colRenovations will begin with the roof, which is in danger of caving in. (IBJ Photo/Perry Reichanadter)

Chulchian, who bought the theater in 1976, gifted it to the not-for-profit in 2007 but retained a partial interest, which had complicated efforts to improve the structure. In February, he agreed to surrender his interest in the property, but in April he resurrected his effort to intervene in the Rivoli’s future, sending the ownership dispute back to court.

A judge’s order reaffirming the February agreement will allow work to begin on the 1927 movie house, which is expected to become a catalyst for further redevelopment of the East 10th Street corridor, the stretch adopted by organizers of Super Bowl XLVI.

The first order of business is to replace the roof, which is in danger of caving in. The city has agreed to devote federal Community Development Block Grant funds to the project.

The grant recipient is the East 10th Street Civic Association, which is partnering with Keystone Construction on the project. Tammi Hughes, executive director of the civic association, said Keystone will be the construction manager and will donate its fee to the effort.

“It’s been 10 years of start and stop,” said Hughes, noting that while her organization has been trying to save the building for about a decade, the community’s efforts go back much further. “We’re absolutely thrilled to have the city on board as a partner.” City officials involved in making the grant were not available to comment.

Hughes’ group is in the process of securing an engineering firm to do a final evaluation of the roof. That should happen in August, followed by Keystone’s work. The roof is expected to be replaced by December.

As that work progresses, the civic association will work with the Rivoli board to convene stakeholders to revisit what the building might become, Hughes said. Unless that process results in a shift in direction, the Rivoli could pattern itself after the Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center on Chicago’s south side. Rivoli advocates visited Little Black Pearl a few years ago and came away impressed with its role as a cultural arts center providing performance space, studio space, practice rooms and other arts opportunities for children and families.

Hughes said once her group and the Rivoli board agree on a direction for the Rivoli, they’ll be able to assess how much money it will take to prepare the building for its new role in the community.

The Rivoli, at 10th and Dearborn streets, is expected to anchor one of three redevelopment nodes along the corridor. The others, at 10th and Jefferson and 10th and Rural, benefitted from significant public and private investment leading up to the Super Bowl last February.

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