DOWNERS GROVE – The owner of the Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove has plans to open a 33-seat theater in a storefront property next to the cinema, potentially by the end of the year.
Classic Cinemas owns the majority of the block on Highland Avenue in downtown Downers Grove and has owned the 800-foot space next to the Tivoli since the late 1970s, Classic Cinemas CEO Chris Johnson said. The location has been vacated since the Grove Travel agency left in 2013, Johnson said.
The expansion is a project Classic Cinemas has considered for some time, given the limitations of the Tivoli’s one screen in a 1,000-seat auditorium.
“The biggest problem with the Tivoli with only one screen or any limited theater like that is you only have one movie that you can play at a time with the distribution commitments,” Johnson said. “Sometimes people don’t understand that you’re playing one movie for four weeks, it’s because of the commitment.”
A second theater would offer the Tivoli more flexibility, Johnson said.
“The idea is if we have this smaller theater, you will be able to play twice as many movies and turn the product over. If you have a four-week commitment for a movie, you can have two weeks in the big house and then slide it over to the smaller theater. You’re not building a 30-seat theater. You’re building the ability to play more movies.”
The new theater would be integrated into the Tivoli’s theater space. The only way to access it would be through the Tivoli Theatre entryway. The additional theater also would allow for flexibility in showing movies when the Tivoli hosts live events.
“It sounds small from a size perspective, but it would have heated reclining seats, laser projection, amazing sound. It would be an excellent viewing room,” Johnson said. “It wouldn’t be lacking in that regard.”
Downers Grove requires a special-use permit, with a hearing scheduled for Oct. 26. In an ideal scenario for Classic Cinemas, once the permit is secured, Johnson said the theater could be built by the end of the year.
“We have sent out all the notices, we have the signs and we will find out from there,” Johnson said. “We don’t think this is controversial in any way. We’re taking a space that’s been vacant for years and utilizing it in the block’s current use. We already have the plans in place and everything else.”
The Tivoli, built in 1928, is one of 14 Classic Cinemas locations – 13 of them in Illinois. It has been closed since March 13 as a result of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While other movie theaters reopened in late June when the state moved into Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan, the Tivoli remained closed. That came after Phase 4 guidelines were released stating that theaters can only be at 50% capacity capped at 50 people.
Classic Cinemas’ other locations closed after two weeks.
“The reason we closed is we didn’t have any new product; there’s little new product right now,” Johnson said. “The biggest hang-up right now is the state of New York. Forty-eight of 50 states allow theaters to be open, but without New York, studios are not able to confirm new movies and keep pushing them back.”
Johnson said Christmas Day is “90% a go” for theaters, with the possibility that it could be a little before that date. “Wonder Woman 1984,” which was scheduled for an Oct. 2 release, now is expected to debut at theaters Christmas Day.
“Christmas week is the biggest week in film going and ‘Wonder Woman ’ is slated for that day,” Johnson said. “But if New York doesn’t open, you never know.”