Libertyville leaders blast lack of collaboration on proposed theater redevelopment


Despite frustration with a lack of collaboration regarding the proposed redevelopment of the Liberty Theater and property as a gateway to downtown, Libertyville village officials say they want to work with ownership to get something going.

Attorney Murray Lewison, representing the unnamed owner of the shuttered building at 708 N. Milwaukee Ave., got an earful from village trustees who said they were disappointed with how things have gone with the proposed redevelopment.

Among the concerns is a lack of visibility and involvement by the owner to react and respond to questions and address issues, including how the overall plan would fit in with the big picture downtown.

After discussing project details April 9, the village board continued the topic so a representative of the ownership could be present at its meeting this past Tuesday.

Technically, trustees were considering reports of the advisory historic preservation and appearance review commissions, which recommended against a certificate of appropriateness for the project’s proposed building as well as landscaping and fencing.

No revisions were presented Tuesday leading village officials to outline for Lewison in strong terms what the project means to the community and what is expected.

“Nothing has come forward (since April 9) from the ownership to tell us they’re genuinely involved in the process,” said Trustee Scott Adams.

The most recent design proposal for the redevelopment of the Liberty Theater site in downtown Libertyville includes new buildings to the north and south.
Courtesy of village of Libertyville

“We want to work with you,” he later added. “I think we’re that close that we can make this project come together but we have not seen the collaboration from the other side of the table come forward and we need to have that trust, value and vision.”

The theater, built in 1937, has been substantially modified over the years and unoccupied for about four years. The windows are boarded up and the parking lots blocked by traffic horses.

Trustee Pete Garrity cited a lack of trust regarding the ownership and an unwillingness to collaborate with the village to create a project acceptable to all parties.

“It’s looked like heck for a number of years,” Trustee Pete Garrity told Lewison. “We’re all very frustrated with it, our residents are frustrated. They’re in our ears on a regular basis about, ‘What the heck are you doing about the movie theater?’ and we’ve been trying to move this forward.”

Trustee Matthew Hickey, a commercial real estate executive, said the situation with the theater has nothing to do with the village and that ownership has to show up, meet with staff and answer questions.

“Move this forward in a way that gets it done,” he told Lewison. “You better think it through then come back to us.”

As presented, the plan is to redevelop the 1.2-acre site with an addition to the existing theater for retail uses and a restaurant, a new commercial building to the north and an apartment building to the south.

“It wouldn’t take a ton of work to get the project over the hump,” maintained Trustee Jim Connell. “I think it can be done.”

Lewison said he would convey the concerns but no specific return date was set.



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