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Official's exit won't postpone theater
By Susan Kuczka
Tribune staff reporter
May 7, 2004
The curtain will go up at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan as scheduled this fall despite last week's surprise resignation of the manager of the $23 million theater renovation project, city officials said Thursday.
"The show will go on," said Ray Vukovich, director of government services for Waukegan.
The Friends of the Historic Genesee Theatre, a non-profit group formed to help raise funds for the theater's operation, launched a search to replace theater renovator Ray Shepardson, who resigned April 28.
"We're not going to miss a beat," said state Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills), the group's board chairman.
Shepardson, a veteran of theater renovations in Cleveland and Detroit, headed the Waukegan project for the last three years. He was in charge of directing the Genesee's rehabilitation and developing its program lineup.
Shepardson's resignation comes less than a year after the city fired the project's chief architect, GSI Architects of Cleveland, citing growing cost overruns for the project, originally budgeted at $15 million and scheduled to open last year.
Concerns about the overruns and delays led some members of the fundraising organization to question the leadership of Shepardson, who joined the project as a $120,000-a-year city consultant to GSI.
"Ray was a little upset about the direction the board was going, and the board was a little upset about the direction Ray was going," Link said. "I appreciate all his efforts, but we accepted his resignation and we'll be moving forward."
At the board's last meeting, Shepardson said he offered to "step aside" after complaining that the money the board was budgeting to book big-name talent for the theater fell short of his expectations.
"Basically, they wanted me to program the facility, but they didn't have a budget for it," he said.
Link and Vukovich, however, maintain they will have no problems bringing class acts to the theater.
"We will have money to book a lot of people," Link said.
The theater, an 1,800-seat movie palace that helped define downtown Waukegan after its 1927 opening, closed in 1982.
Native son Jack Benny premiered many of his movies there. Scores of musical groups, circuses and theatrical programs also played the Genesee, making it the place to visit when in downtown Waukegan.
Officials intend for the renovated theater to be the centerpiece of the city's downtown redevelopment.
Link, a North Chicago native who remembers visiting the Genesee as a child, helped secure more than $1 million in state funding to get the project launched.
He took a more active role in the project about six months ago when he became the Friends' board chairman after learning close to $225,000 in donations had gone toward the salaries of about a half-dozen employees of the organization, including Shepardson's wife, Nanette.
Rather than continuing to pay those salaries, the board hired a fundraising firm and laid off most of the employees, Link said.
Nanette Shepardson has remained active in the project as a volunteer--a move that her husband said he also is considering.
"This project is the miracle on Genesee Street, and I'm not going to just walk away from it," Shepardson said.
An announcement on the talent lineup for the fall opening is expected soon, Link and city officials said.
"Construction is still on course, so nothing has really changed except we accepted the resignation of Ray Shepardson," Link said. "We're still on target for a fall opening."
Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune
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