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Uptown theater

The Uptown Theater, in the 1400 block of Washington Avenue, has been closed for years. City officials are proposing to renovate it.

RACINE — In about two weeks, the City Council will be voting on its operating and capital budget. Among the most high-profile items in the plan has been a proposal to study a possible 2019 renovation of the former Majestic Theater in Uptown.

City Development Director Amy Connolly said Friday that she has not yet talked to the owners of the theater at 1426 Washington Ave. to learn their interest in the project or their interest in selling.

But before doing that, she wanted to gauge the interest of the members of the City Council and make sure there was money allocated.

Randall and Peggy Larson, who own the Uptown theater building and Peg & Lou’s Bar at 3113 Douglas Ave., declined Friday to comment on the city’s plans for the theater.

The budget proposal asks for $75,000 to perform a feasibility study and $50,000 to perform market analysis in 2019.

The plan also proposed that $10 million to be allocated in 2021 for property purchase and construction costs. The city would use $5 million of a tax increment financing district bond and $5 million from private development to fund the project.

Over the years, there has been interest expressed in renovating the Uptown theater, but the city has to do its due diligence to ensure the project is feasible, Connolly said.

A feasibility study would help determine the condition of the building. To do that, with something such as a historic theater, would require city officials to bring in someone with knowledge of acoustics and other specialties. It’s much more complicated than bringing in a contractor to estimate a project in your home, Connolly said.

“We are talking about historic preservation,” she said.

This is how the process works, Connolly said. You have to spend money upfront to see investment in the years to come.

Connolly said at this point it’s too soon to say if the city would want to buy the property or if it would stay with the current owner.

Although the city doesn’t own the property, that doesn’t mean it cannot study the property, Connolly said.

‘A catalytic development’

“Projects like this are catalytic,” Connolly said. “It’s a catalytic development that spurs economic development.”

If you have 500 or more people going to Uptown on a night for an event, think about the economic impact that has to the area around it, Connolly said.

That could include additional housing and businesses such as bars and restaurants.

“We need to do everything we can do to put plans in place … to spur economic development,” Connolly said.

The City Council is scheduled to approve the budget at its Nov. 7 meeting, the same day Mayor-elect Cory Mason is to be sworn in.

While the theater is an item on the capital improvement budget, interim Mayor Dennis Wiser, who is planning to go back to his aldermanic seat after Mason is sworn in, said the Nov. 7 vote is just the initial step.

“There will still be step-by-step approval,” Wiser said. Contracts and other funding will need to be approved by aldermen at a later date, he said: “This is not the final thumbs up, thumbs down.”

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