Matinee at the Midway: City bears down on blighted downtown theater
By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – Although onlookers near the Midway Theater were treated to a show of sorts last week, it wasn’t quite the production that’s part of the building’s illustrious past.
Officers with the Rockford Police Department, city code enforcement officials and other city representatives performed an all-trades inspection at the historic theater Wednesday, Oct. 24, to determine if the vacant building is posing a public safety threat or is in violation of property standards ordinances.
“We walked through the property with the owner and his attorney,” Rockford Legal Director Nick Meyer said. “That was to determine what the outstanding code issues are and what the plans are to redevelop the property.”
The theater is owned by Rockford resident Peter Crane, the owner back in 2012 when a portion of the roof caved in, resulting in a $45,000 fine for not fixing it in a timely manner. The repair has since been made, but the iconic building still sits in disrepair.
Crane was in and out of code hearings in 2013 when he announced a plan to turn the building into loft and commercial space. In a letter to the city in 2015, he again vowed to redevelop the property and two adjacent parcels. There were more than $2,800 outstanding property taxes standing in the way of the plan at the time, however. Aldermen also rejected a request to waive more than $2,000 in fines associated with the roof; they had already waived more than $70,000 in penalties after the collapse.
Whether more violations were found during last week’s inspection has not been determined. Meyer said no legal action has been taken and that the city is in talks with Crane about the theater’s future.
“We are really interested in what the plans are and what the timeline is,” Meyer said. “(The owner) is interested in a path to redevelop it, but we just don’t have any details. It’s very preliminary.”
The Midway Theater opened just over 100 years ago, on Aug. 3, 1918. The facility peaked in popularity when Rockford was a regular stop on the vaudeville circuit and was later used for a variety of purposes. Once the home of the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, the theater changed hands a number of times over the years. In the mid 2000’s, the Midway Center Gateway Foundation made a run at bringing the theater back to prominence, however, extensive water damage and a litany of property liens prevented the effort. Crane acquired the property in 2010.
“Our goal is to have that redeveloped and it’s the owner’s, too,” Meyer added.
Meyer said if there are outstanding code issues, the city’s intent is to work with the owner to satisfy any imposed fines before any legal actions are taken.
Crane could not be reached for comment. R.
Photo: Cinema Treasures