Unable to reach a lease with Harrison Street property owner Chris Kleronomos, Forest Park’s Circle Theatre is postponing its plan to relocate to Oak Park.

Located at 7300 Madison St., just west of Harlem, the troupe had planned to raise $500,000 to build out a new space in the Oak Park Arts District. The Village of Oak Park was also offering $212,000 to entice Circle to make the jump.

The last major hurdle was signing a lease with Chris Kleronomos, the owner of 217 Harrison St., a long-empty warehouse often referred to as the “Husky Dome” (a youth softball team used it as a training facility for a short time). That’s where the theater says things collapsed.

“Circle has always survived by finding the right place at the right time, and unfortunately this wasn’t it,” said Artistic Director Kevin Bellie.

Kleronomos added various maintenance and insurance fees to the lease, which threw off Circle’s estimates. And with the theater spending so much money to spruce up the space, they were hoping for a 20-year lease or at least 10 years with two additional five-year options.

“As soon as that was removed, that pretty much sealed our fate that we weren’t interested,” Bellie said. “That was a make-or-break and when it was changed, it did indeed break.”

Bellie said fundraising was going slower than expected, but the theater was still “well on our way” to raising half of $500,000. He emphasized the lease negotiations killed the deal.

Issues with the lease kept piling up and added provisions would pop up, Bellie said. Each side was looking out for its best interests, which ultimately couldn’t come together.

“It was becoming insurmountable to deal with all the issues and appeared there would not be a resolution that could please both parties,” Bellie said.

Reached Monday, Kleronomos declined to comment to Wednesday Journal.

Bellie said Kleronomos did offer free rent for the first six months, while the space was built, and discounted rent. But length was the sticking point.

Circle has decided it might be wiser to purchase a space, rather than investing thousands for something they don’t own. However, they’ll still consider leasing in the future.

The theater group plans to remain in its current location, at least until their lease expires in October 2010. They have been in Forest Park for almost 24 years, and for more than 18 years in the present space.

Circle is adding new seating (which could be transported to a new location) and bathrooms to its current theater using previously raised funds.

Bellie said Circle is asking donors how they should spend the Oak Park relocation funds. The theater will pay back “every cent” if that’s what a supporter wants, but most have told them to keep it.

Circle will explore locations in Oak Park, Forest Park and the surrounding area in the next two years.

“The goal is to stay in this area in some way,” he said.

Village remains hopeful

Loretta Daly, Oak Park’s business services manager, says the village will keep working with Circle to find a way to bring the theater here. The grant funds do not have an expiration date. However, they are earmarked for the arts district, and the village would have to find other funding sources if Circle eyes a location outside that area.

“2010 is literally right around the corner, and they’ve indicated every desire to continue to work with us,” Daly said.

The village will also continue to listen to any proposal other theater groups might have for Harrison, she said. No such requests have been received since Circle’s announcement.

“We all are looking forward to the day when Circle opens its doors in the Oak Park Arts District, and it looks like the time frame for that has shifted out a bit,” said Village President David Pope. “Ultimately the theater has to consider its fundraising capacity and the impact of lease terms on its overall operations.”

Business owners in the area clamored for the village to help locate a theater in the arts district. The previous village board dedicated $2.5 million in “catalyst” funds to revitalize the area, which is where the $212,000 village grant came from.

“It’s a bummer for us; we’re the losers,” said Laura Maychruk, Buzz Café owner and vice president of the Harrison Street Business Alliance. “I’ll still hold out a little more possibility for hope. I think it would be wonderful for the street.”

Whatever happens, the show will go on at Circle.

“We will continue to produce, even if it means renting out someone’s basement,” Bellie said.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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