Can it be saved? Miner's Theater on list of endangered historic sites

News-DemocratApril 30, 2013 

A historic Collinsville building has been named one of the 10 most endangered historic places in Illinois.

Landmarks Illinois, a nonprofit organization that works to protect historic properties, on Tuesday announced its annual list of threatened historic sites and on that list is the Miner's Theater, a structure built by local coal mining unions in 1918 as a labor temple.

To fund the $90,000 building, each miner donated 1 percent of his salary for one year. Once completed, unions used the Miner's Institute Building to hold meetings, host dances and other entertainment and serve as a place to hang out with family, friends and co-workers.

Historic Miner's Institute Foundation President Michael Romanich had never heard of the endangered landmark list before a representative of Landmarks Illinois contacted him about the building and the halted renovations.

"I think anything that gets this building and this project into the public eye is a good thing at this point," Romanich said. "We can certainly use the publicity to get this project moving. Maybe being on the endangered list is a good thing, I don't know. Maybe there is someone out there who wants to help save a historic building and will hear about Miner's and want to help."

Over the years the building has fallen into disrepair and is no longer useable.

Rehabilitation and renovation of the building was taken over by the Collinsville Area Recreation District in 2009. After spending more than $1.6 million in maintenance and renovations, and facing the expenditure of at least another $1 million to make the building's bathrooms handicapped accessible before it could be opened to the public, C.A.R.D. determined it would not be able to continue funding the rehabilitation of the historic building.

The recreation district offered to transfer ownership of the building back to the Miner's Institute Foundation.

But there was a catch. Money used to rehabilitate the building were TIF funds and under the agreement with the city, a portion of those funds had to be repaid to the city by C.A.R.D. if it didn't hold on to the building. So, the building lingered in limbo waiting for a decision to be made.

In March, the Collinsville City Council voted to allow the recreation district to pass ownership of the historic Miner's Theater to the Historic Miner's Institute Foundation and forgive the district its TIF debt. The vote removed the requirement that C.A.R.D. pay 25 percent of the TIF funds back to the city if it did not maintain ownership of the building for four years after receiving TIF funding.

The Collinsville Area Recreation District and the Miner's Institute Foundation reached an agreement to transfer the deed of the building from C.A.R.D. to the foundation and the district would agree to provide the foundation with $21,000 to maintain the building for one year. The agreement is still in the legal process and the foundation is waiting for the official deed to the building, according to Romanich.

The foundation cannot do much until it has the deed to the building, but the group is ready to get moving on the renovations and fundraising.

"Our first line of business is to get it open again and able to be occupied by the public and go from there. I would like to see the building restored back to it's former glory and be utilized for many things," Romanich said. "It is a multi-faceted venue that can house just about anything: Theater, comedy night, weddings, dances, graduation events. Many things could be handled with this building. There is a lot of heart and soul on the board, but generating big money in today's economy is not as easy as it sounds. We are moving forward and trying to make it happen and get the renovations started again."

Also on the endangered list are:

* Gage House, a pre-Civil War home in Winnetka

* A former orphanage in Springfield

* The moveable bridges in Chicago

* Community mausoleums in Beecher and Roodhouse

* Madison Theater in Peoria

* Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake

* Muddy Waters home in Chicago

* Newcomb Hotel in Quincy

* Wiant House in Chicago

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf at jschaaf@bnd.com or 618-239-2667.

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