Village seeking action from Home Theater owner

The Home Theater as it appears today. The theater building, which is about three-quarters of a century old, is in dire need of repair.

RANTOUL — The village of Rantoul is seeking court relief against the local owner of the Home Theater to repair the building. The building’s owner, Jewell Kelly, who has owned the theater for more than a decade, said he would like to fix up the property in downtown Rantoul to offer movies and stage productions.

Rantoul village attorney Ken Beth said Kelly has been fined $10,000. Court appearances on that matter, however, are repeatedly continued.

Rantoul Building Safety Manager Scott Morgan said in March 2018 the village obtained a judgment against Kelly “to correct code deficiencies."

“Included in that was mainly the roof,” Morgan said. “The roof was what we were asking him to replace. He declined to do it.”

Morgan said before filing suit, the village first sent Kelly numerous letters in an attempt to get him to remedy the problem.

“And from there it had to go to legal because he didn’t have the funds to replace the roof,” Morgan said.

The matter remains in court, but Morgan said the village is considering “alternative action to address the problem,” although he was not at liberty to say what.

“We’re trying to figure and decide what action we’re going to take from here,” Morgan said. “It makes it challenging when you have owners that are just walking away from their investment and just letting the structure deteriorate.”

Morgan said he is not sure how the theater’s roof problem is affecting neighboring buildings without hiring a structural engineer to examine the problem.

Janet Brotherton, who with husband John and Jerry King own the chamber of commerce building located beside the theater, said the theater building is causing problems.

“We have had pieces of the shingles and roofing in our driveway and over our cap (from the theater roof),” Brotherton said.

She said the theater also had two broken water lines that caused water to back up into the chamber building’s crawl space.

She said shards of glass have also fallen from the theater marquee, and mold has grown in the front windows. Also, a brick mason told Brotherton it would not be wise to tuckpoint a few spots on the chamber building because the marquee is causing stress to the front of it.

The building on the other side of the theater is owned by Nathan Dawson, who was not immediately available to comment.

Village officials were invited into the theater building because Kelly was trying to come up with a business plan for renovation.

“We just told him the No. 1 priority would be making the building weather-tight, and that would be replacing the roof,” Morgan said.

When the roof was not repaired and attempts to get Kelly to make the repairs were unsuccessful, the village issued an ordinance violation fee for $10,000.

Beth said Kelly has paid $150 toward the fine — in April paying $100 and in June paying $50.

Both sides have been in court numerous times on the matter, however, as it keeps getting continued. And that means costs continue to increase for the village. How much remains unclear.

Village Comptroller Pat Chamberlin said the village doesn’t track legal expenses separately on the theater. She deferred to Beth, who said the theater issue is one of many ordinance violations the village has to deal with.

“Legal fees are not tracked separately on this matter,” Beth said. “Fees are imbedded within the items shown on the statements under ‘ordinance prosecution enforcement.’”

Beth said the court docket for the prosecution of ordinance violations “generally runs from approximately 70-90 cases per setting.”

Beth said once a month the village and Kelly appear in court on the matter.

The village attorney said he would rather see action than dollars from Kelly.

“The simple fact of the matter is I would rather any money he did have go into repairs and replacements to that building rather than court costs,” Beth said.

Morgan said the theater would have to be brought up to code before it can be used for any purpose.

Kelly, who bought the building in 2007, told the Press he doesn’t have the money to repair the roof, but he does have a dream of getting it fixed up for use again. He said he hired a cinema consultant as well as a concession consultant and an architect to look at the theater.

“We have those recommendations, so then we had to have a feasibility study by the architect ... and they came up with a cost to be necessary to get the theater operating.

The cost was well in excess of $500,000, so we decided we couldn’t do the whole thing at once,” Kelly said.

He said he would like to secure funding from the village of Rantoul as well as the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and perhaps the Small Business Administration.

“And we’re even looking at the Farmers Home Administration for funds, but most are contingent upon the village approving a plan,” Kelly said.

He said he has been going “through this process” for more than five years and has spent more than $20,000 in consulting fees. He has looked at both live stage presentations as well as movies. The cost for a stage alone would be $900,000, he said.

Kelly has big dreams. In its heyday, The Home operated with just one screen. Kelly would like there to be three screens and a small room for training. He said he believes renovating the theater is a realistic possibility.

An addition would have to be made to the back of the 4,000-square-foot building “that would be 40-foot tall so we can slide a screen and so we can put an air-conditioning unit on top,” Kelly said.

The cost to fix the roof, he said,  would be “well over $30,000.”

He said the building’s walls are in good shape.

“The walls are a foot thick,” he said.

Kelly said he would show Christian and PG-rated movies.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com