Will Rogers Theatre - Charleston ILIn about 1997, as a real estate agent, I represented Tim Burke in the purchase of the Majestic Theatre at 119 N Vermillion St. in Streator Il. At the closing, we found out that we grew up two blocks from each other, went to the same high school, had many mutual friends, but had never met.
After he bought the Majestic he would come to the theatre from California where he lived to work on the place. He would invite my family, and I to come to the theatre. We helped him with many projects, what ever work needed to be done.
When Mr. Burke bought the theatre there was a 10 year protective covenant that he could not play any first run film. When the covenant was up, the Majestic opened in 2007 managed by Kyle and Cindy Mitchell. According to Mr. Burke, they where not paying rent and he needed to make a change. In early 2009 Tim Burke asked me to help him run the theatre. He had a manager, Shelly and Paul Bottomly. I agreed to collect the money and make sure the bills got paid. About 6 weeks into the business, Tim called me at my real estate office about noon, and said, he had fired the manager. He told me that he needed my husband Jim and I to run the theatre tonight or it will go dark and never open again. We would be met at the door by projectionist Bill Sramek. That was June 12, 2009. I was there almost every night there after. I learned how to run the theatre as I went along. My husband Jim, and I ran the theatre for about 5 years, 7 days a week. The only day we closed was Christmas Eve. In those 5 years I took one pay check for $300. I paid all the bills including the mortgage and insurance. In hind sight, I don’t think any of the people involved before me deserved the things that Tim said about them.
In 2011 Tim Burke suggested we buy another theatre. Together we purchased a theatre in Charleston, IL known as the Will Rogers. My partner did not hold up his end of the agreement. I was left to make all the mortgage, insurance, and property taxes payments with no help from him for restoration of the closed venue. He threw a tantrum, the first Thanksgiving after we bought the Will Rogers. My husband and I invested $20,000. down payment. We took out a $15,000. loan to upgrade the electrical system to get the project moving forward. We paid all the carrying costs.
In 2012 - 2013 Hollywood began converting from 35mm film to digital projection. The Majestic was running 35 mm film. As time went on it became more difficult to get film to put on the screen. The Majestic theatre began to struggle under the weight of carrying the un-open Will Rogers and paying it’s own overhead expenses. Not being able to get product to put on the screen was killing the Majestic.
A group of Streator citizens (Amanda Christoff, Chuck Vaughn, Haily and Holly Burasch, Cinda Bond, Dave Miller to name a few) approached me about trying to raise the funds to convert the theatre to digital projection. For the next year we held 50/50 contests, bake sales, cook outs, and car shows. We sold buttons, and t – shirts. We wrote letters to anyone we thought might help. Any free moment was spent with a goal to raise the estimated $121,000. dollars needed to convert the Majestic from film to digital projection. We raised about $16,000.
An angel sent me an e mail. Bob Endres had began his career at the Majestic. He had gone on to work at Radio City Music Hall and now works for Dolby in New York. Mr. Endres donated the rest of what we needed to get digital projection. He sent two of the countries best technicians to install the equipment. Dave Birdie and Paul Sacco donated their over time to the effort. The cost was much higher then our original estimate to convert the theatre from film to digital projection.
Our business partner, Tim Burke, who owned the Majestic building, whom I thought would be happy, freaked out. He said he had thought we would not be successful and planned to close the Majestic. He made crazy demands from me to buy the building. He wanted $100,000. in cash and assume his $128,000. mortgage. (That was not assumable) I offered him $10,000. over the appraised value. And he could take anything he had stored in the building not essential to running the business. He refused. On Monday Aug. 25th 2014, after a show, he went gangster. He sent men to board up the front of the theatre in the middle of the night locking me out. I got Facebook messages from very upset public who saw it happening. Not a good night for me.
My attorney told me it was a civil matter. Go to the building and secure the assets of the corporation. I was the legal tenant as I had not been given notice to vacate. My main goal was to secure the digital projectors. I knew their value and was sure he would sell them and pocket the money. On the morning of Thursday Aug. 28, 2014 my crew of friends and employees entered the building and did just that.
The building owner, my business partner, never made another mortgage payment. He circulated rumors that I had pocked all the money and he had been paying all the bills. I had heard the story before, about Kyle and Cindy Mitchell. It was not the truth for me, and I suspect not for them either.
I continued to make payments on the Will Rogers Theatre in Charleston, IL because my husband and my name is on title. But, because Tim Burke never made another payment on the Majestic, the First Farmers Bank is taking the Will Rogers Theatre too. The Bank told me they have never before given loan approval to some one they are foreclosing on. It is uncharted waters. Jim and I have loan commitment to purchase both theatres if an agreement could be reached. Tim Burke never responded to anyone who reached out to him. It is hard to understand why a person would throw himself under the bus. His actions not only hurt himself, but all the employees, people, and communities where these two theatres are located. A very sad way to live one’s life, when he could have been a hero.
On Aug. 12, 2015 at 10:30 the Majestic Theatre goes to Sheriff Sale. The terms of the sale are 10% down in cash and paid in full in cash within 24 hours. On Tuesday Aug 4, I will be meeting with Hoyt Alexander of First Farmers Bank to show the building to prospective buyers for the sheriff sale. The only way I will be able to buy either property is if the bank wins the bid at the sheriff sale.
There are many people who have interest in the Majestic. I think most think the Majestic is turn key. They are going to be shocked when they see the condition. The building owner or his friends have stripped the building. The movie screens are gone. The sound equipment is gone. The baseboard heaters in the halls and bathrooms are gone. The heaters in the lobby are gone. The water heaters are gone. The mirrors are gone. The poster cases are gone. Some of the theatre seats are gone. They were scrapping the cast iron radiators for cash. The roof is leaking, electric wires are hanging loose, and everything is covered by mold.
My husband and I ran the theatre for 5 years. I tried to contribute to the community the best I could. If someone else buys the building I fear it won’t be long before they walk away. If I turn the donated digital projectors over to a new person, what is to stop them from selling them to recoup their business loss. It is not easy to operate a two screen old movie theatre in Streator, Illinois with a depressed economy.
The Majestic holds a special place in my heart. She is a grand old Art Deco Theatre built for Vaudeville. If these walls could talk, what acts they must have seen. The Majestic is an anchor in the down town that attracts people who eat in restaurants, and buy gas. The fall out for the cities of Streator and Charleston to be deprived of open theatres is devastating. I feel I have let these communities down, even though the circumstances were far beyond my control.
I would like nothing more then to secure both the Majestic and Will Rogers Theatres and proceed with the commitment that I have made to both Streator and Charleston, Illinois to re open their movie palaces. Even if I secure both properties the task of getting them back in shape to open will be daunting. People tell me I am crazy to care. My heart is heavy with grief. I have to do what ever I can to save both the Majestic and Will Rogers theatre palaces.
My Name is Katie Troccoli. This is my story about why I am trying to raise funds to save The Will Rogers Theater.
The Will Rogers Theatre
is a wonderful Art Deco theatre in need of restoration. Originally built in 1938 the Will Rogers was most recently owned by GKC and then AMC before being purchased by a partner, my husband and myself.
Over the years the theatre was given many upgrades that did not flatter the original structure of the building. The 5 store fronts were used as a theatre dumping ground for storage. There is a wall that splits the auditorium, and the furnace and cooling systems where put on the stage. There is only one unisex handicap bathroom and it is where the snack bar should be.
Work to restore the Will into one of East Central Illinois' finest entertainment venues is in the plans. But, it won't be an easy task to bring the Will Rogers back to as it was when it originally opened in 1938 as well as meet today's building codes.
This Art Deco building just off the Courthouse Square in Charleston, Illinois once surpassed even the fondest dreams of what a modern theater could be according to a Paramount Films executive. The Will Rogers Theater was closed by AMC in 2010, its future uncertain. It was added to the list of Landmark's Illinois 10 most endangered structures in Illinois. Purchased in 2011 the project has stalled due to our partners health issues, difficult behavior, and funding issues. The health issues and bad behavior have thrown us into legal issues my husband and I are trying to work out.
In an effort to return the Will Rogers Theater to its original grandeur, we are asking for your help to create community awareness about the project, and to raise the needed funds. The plan is to get the Will Rogers Theater open and back into a downtown community social location. Movie goers and live entertainment enthusiasts will delight in the enjoyment of once again having a magnificent downtown hot spot that thrives.
The Will Rogers Theatre, will be an economic anchor for down town Charleston. Theaters are often a feeder for restaurants and shops. In a thriving environment these businesses will feed off each other creating jobs and employment opportunities.
Renovating theater buildings becomes particularly costly for they must be overhauled to accommodate modern audiences and performers. Creating a contemporary facility will mean revamping the lobby and backstage area, making (new) main floor handicapped-accessible bathrooms and replacing old film projectors with digital equipment. All this is true for the Will Rogers. That is why we need your help.
The Will Rogers Theater is part of a great community. Many people have fond memories of time spent at the location. I believe the theatre can be a vital part of downtown Charleston once again.
In order to move the Will Rogers Theatre project forward the exterior electric system will need a costly update. The cost is estimated at $15,200. This is required by the power company. I have secured a loan for the electric upgrade. Once the electric system is upgraded, we will be looking for businesses to rent three of the five store fronts. This will create jobs. These store fronts will also support needed foot traffic to the theatre.
Once rented the income from the store fronts will help to move the theatre restoration project forward. With the new banking regulations in place it is very difficult to finance a project of this magnitude. The lenders want leases to provide cash flow to move the project forward.
We feel fortunate to have secured the financing to purchase the building. We spent our cash on the down payment. However with out having the building open the cost to carry the property is approximately $2,400. per month plus utilities. (Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance, plus the (NEW) loan for the electiric up grade.) It does not leave much left over for improvements.
Even though I have secured a loan for the electric upgrade, and the work is underway, there is much that needs to be done at the Will Rogers Theatre.
1. The wall splitting the auditorium in two needs to be removed.
2.The heating and cooling system (currently on the stage) needs to be removed and upgraded.
3. A digital projection system needs to be installed.
4.Handicap bathrooms need to be built on the main floor.
5. The snack bar needs to be re built in the lobby.
6. The Marquee needs to be restored. The tower which was originally back lit with neon needs to have the concrete block removed and replaced with glass block and the neon restored.
7. The exterior facade needs to be stabilized and preserved.
8. Two of the store fronts are in pretty rough condition and will need work to bring them up to today's standards. The back half of the northern most store front will be used as a green room.
9. The interior lighting in the auditorium needs to be restored. The back lite neon brought back.
10. The proscenium will need to revamped to accommodate current day artists and shows.
11. Architectural Fees $9,700.
There are many other items that need to be done that are two numerous to list.
I hope you will support our efforts to move the Will Rogers Theatre restoration project forward.
How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time.
How do you restore an old theatre? Answer: One piece at a time.
Any funds donated which would exceed our electric service goal will be used for the Will Rogers Theatre restoration. We have a lot to do. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions you might have.
For more information visit: www.WillRogersCharleston.com
I hope you share my passion for the Will Rogers Theatre. I am looking forward to an opening night that is going to be a grand celebration for the entire community!
Thank you for your interest in this project.