City, owners begin negotiations over sale of Madison Theater

By Audrey Wise

February 7, 2014 Updated Feb 8, 2014 at 12:06 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. – A historical landmark in Peoria could see another act.

The City of Peoria announced Friday that they are working with a development group to renovate the Madison theater and surrounding areas.

The Madison opened in 1920 as a vaudeville and silent film theater. It was a concert venue in the 1990s.

The building eventually closed in 2003 because of safety issues and the high cost to bring it up to code.

The deal would likely include the entire theater building, which includes retail space along Main Street and a city-owned parking lot next to the theater. The parking lot could be used to build a new building.

City officials said an investment group called NXG Developments has come forward.

Now, they have a 90 day exclusive rights period to work out a deal with the city of Peoria and the Comfort family, owners of the theater.

Peoria City Assistant City Manager Chris Setti said the negotiation period is just the next step in a long road to renovation, "It's kind of like buying a house, or buying a house that you know needs a lot of renovation, if you can't afford to actually buy the house to begin with, it doesn't matter how much the renovations cost. So you don't even worry about the renovation costs, maybe until you can understand the list price."

Katie Arnholt Kim, a managing member of NXG Developments said it's important to the entire group of investors to keep the project local.

"My great grandfather, Thomas E. Horan, did all the ornamental plastering within the theater, so for me to be able to work on the project that he did and he built, that's pretty much why," said Arnholt Kim.

It's still early, but the group expects the Madison Theater to remain some kind of performance space. The other areas would likely be a mixed use of residential, office and retail.

The investors don't know exactly how much it would cost to renovate the historic building, but it would be in the millions.

The theater pulls at the heart strings for many in the Peoria area.

Some residents told us they still remember it's glory days and the possibility of sharing it with a new generation is the most exciting part of this development.

"I just think it would be a gem for Peoria. I grew up going to movies there and it was one of my favorite places. I have wonderful memories of that place, as a movie theater, not in the later days, but I think so much could be done with that building," said Trisha Noack of Peoria.

Former president of the Peoria Historical Society, Dr. Peter Couri, said, "I would love to see all the design and the woodwork in there preserved and it lends itself to an auditorium usage, a restaurant usage, office meeting usage, it would be wonderful to do it that way."

Katie Arnholt Kim said if they reach a deal and everything goes well they could start renovations and break ground sometime next year.