A little over a year ago, I had the pleasure of hosting a Wheaton Chamber of Commerce business after-hours celebration at the DuPage County Historical Museum. As part of this, we formed the Wheaton Junto, patterned after Benjamin Franklin’s Junto from the early 1700s and designed to draw community leaders together to address community challenges.
As my wife and I stood under the leaky marquee of the Wheaton Grand Theater waiting for a seat at a local restaurant, we brainstormed a little on what would be a good topic for the inaugural Junto. Well, we were standing right under our first topic — the Wheaton Grand Theater!
Needless to say, there was a lot of passion in the room when the Juntonians first met and devoured this topic (and some excellent food) at Ivy. How poignant that right outside the window stood the sad but hopeful Wheaton Grand!
We asked the group as we ate: “What would you do if you could breathe life into the Wheaton Grand Theater?”
The ideas exploded with cooking classes, movies, weddings, hotel, paintball, bowling, performing arts, rooftop garden and much more. The attendees included business leaders, city leaders, homemakers, the young, the old, pessimists, optimists and all points in between.
The Junto meetings continued on a monthly basis, with the Wheaton Grand front and center. But there was one sticky problem.
While everyone enthusiastically brainstormed about the possibilities, they also knew that the property was owned by a bank. No one in the room could prevent someone from buying the theater and developing something unremarkable.
This was a constant concern in our meetings until Jim Atten appeared.
Jim loves the theater, loves preserving versus tearing down history and has stepped up and purchased the Wheaton Grand Theater! The early vision includes a performing arts venue but also includes movies, opportunities to showcase local talent and more.
The work ahead is difficult and expensive, but our intention is to generate momentum, participation and donations from the community to bring the Wheaton Grand Theater back to the glory she deserves. And it goes without saying that a vibrant Wheaton Grand is a very good thing for downtown Wheaton and the economic push that is under way.
As a community, can we produce this Miracle on Hale Street? Say it together: “Hale, yes!”
Check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wheatongrandtheater and “like” us to stay up to date.
Rick Erickson is the owner and president of Bold Steps Inc. and serves on the board of directors for the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce