Genesee gets millions more
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Genesee gets millions more
Costs escalate, but Waukegan still enthusiastic
By Ginny Skweres
Special to the Tribune
November 6, 2003
The restoration of Waukegan's historic Genesee Theatre has run millions of dollars over budget and months behind schedule, but city officials said that has not dampened their enthusiasm to get the job done.
The Waukegan City Council this week approved spending another $8 million to finish renovating the 1927 vaudeville and movie palace.
City officials blamed some of the cost overruns and delays on an architectural firm they fired in June.
Changes in plans, such as adding more seats and enlarging the stage, also added to the costs, said Ray Shepardson, project manager.
City officials last year estimated the project would cost $19 million, including $8 million for a parking garage. Most work was to be finished this fall. Now the cost estimate is $27 million and the building will probably not be finished until next fall.
It will be worth the wait, said Ald. Tony Figuero (4th).
"The Genesee Theater is going to be not only the gem of Waukegan, but the gem of Lake County," Figuero said as the City Council on Monday night added $8 million to the $5.5 million contract for Pickus Construction of Waukegan, the general contractor.
"$8 million more will open the doors of the theater," said Ald. Sam Cunningham (1st). "We could either trash it all now or go ahead with a little more caution."
The extra money will be spent on mechanical, electrical and plumbing work, as well as seats, carpeting and decorations, officials said.
The renovation began in 2001 as the cornerstone of Waukegan's plans to redevelop the downtown. The City Council approved a master plan in August that includes hundreds of new lakefront homes and a bridge linking the downtown with Lake Michigan.
City officials said they hope once the Genesee Theatre project is done, Waukegan will again be seen as an entertainment destination.
The ornate theater at Genesee and Clayton Streets was an important stop on the vaudeville circuit. It became a movie theater, and the last film was shown there in 1987.
The theater closed in 1989, said Theodora Anderson, director of the Waukegan Downtown Association.
Plans for the 90,000-square-foot complex include two theaters with expanded lobbies, a stage, VIP and corporate lounges, concessions and washrooms. The seating capacity will be 2,500, officials said.
"We're not going for peanuts, and we're not going second-class," said Mayor Richard Hyde. Last year, for example, an 18-foot-tall crystal chandelier was installed in the Genesee's lobby.
The project began under the direction of GSI Architects Inc. of Cleveland. By the summer of 2002, workers had torn down walls and gutted floors, hauling away seats and fixtures along with hundreds of tons of debris from inside.
City officials in June raised concerns about the pace of work when they fired GSI. City officials have declined to say exactly why GSI was fired.
But this week, Shepardson said that there were "unbelievable delays" under the direction of GSI.
On Wednesday, John Lind, an attorney for GSI, said the firm believes the city terminated the contract without a good reason.
Despite the setbacks, work has continued, city officials said.
Crews are finishing the new stage, the balcony expansion and a seven-story fire tower to be used as an emergency exit.
"Closing the door on the Genesee Theatre now would be the biggest mistake we could make," Figuero said.
The Genesee plans to offer plays, musicals, bands and comedy acts.
"It's about as good a multipurpose theater in the country that I've seen," he said.
Copyright (c) 2003, Chicago Tribune
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