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The contestants differ in the script for Wheaton Grand Theatre, Downtown Vision

After more than five years of construction, a $35 million revitalization project in downtown Wheaton is nearing the finish line.

The city has remodeled streets, replaced underground infrastructure, reconfigured parking lots, and created new public gathering spaces intended to differentiate downtown from other suburban business districts. With just a few finishing touches remaining, the city plans to celebrate the completion of the mega-project with a ceremony in April.

City council candidates running in next month’s local elections offer mixed views on how to build on the inner-city dynamic. Council candidates also have different visions for one of downtown’s most vacant buildings: the Wheaton Grand Theatre.

Three candidates — incumbent Erica Bray-Parker and newcomers Frank Hudetz and Brad Clousing — are competing for two vacant council seats.

The city used dollars to fund tax increases and issued bonds to help fund the streetscape project. A downtown TIF neighborhood expired in December 2022.

Clousing, a commercial real estate agent, describes tax hike funding as a “tool of last resort.” He noted that a seven-story downtown housing development is progressing without assistance from the TIF District.


“This is a major successful development that didn’t require city dollars and will significantly expand the tax base,” Clousing said in a recent forum before the Daily Herald editorial board. “For me, it would be a wait and see whether to use extra City Dollars or allocate buckets of money out of the gate.

Hudetz, a former marketing firm CEO, said the city should take a more proactive approach to economic development. He has also suggested that the city may need to incentivize housing for seniors and people with disabilities in downtown Wheaton.

“Naperville and other communities recognize the need for affordable housing and are proactive in creating it,” Hudetz said at a League of Women Voters forum. “I think Wheaton really needs to look at this seriously.”

Hudetz would also support the use of city funds – “to a degree” – to help with the restoration of the Wheaton Grand Theater. The former film palace was opened in 1925. But it’s been empty since its inception, and efforts to preserve the theater haven’t made much headway.

However, Hudetz said a revived downtown theater would “harmonize so well with the restaurants” on Hale Street.

“What a wonderful opportunity, because we know that the restaurants would love theater, live theater being held there, or musicals or demos, upcoming concerts,” said Hudetz.

In 2011, 56% of residents voted against a city proposal to allocate $150,000 annually to the theater.

“At this point, I know the community doesn’t really support that,” said Bray-Parker, a high school civics teacher who is seeking her second term. “It would be a lot of money. This property requires a lot of work.”

If there were facade grants to “refresh” the theater’s exterior, Clousing said he would be “anything for it.” But Bray-Parker and Clousing said they were generally opposed to directing public money toward a restoration of the privately owned theatre.

“I think it’s a slippery slope when you start investing or allocating city funds into private companies,” Clousing said. “And that series by Hale is doing so well anyway, even though there’s not much going on in the theater there. I would not be in favor of the city being taken over or the city spending significant dollars at this point.”

As for the rest of downtown, Bray-Parker said the Streetscape project is a “huge success in creating foot traffic.” Officials promote economic development through the Downtown Wheaton Association, Bray-Parker said, but the city doesn’t have a “Naperville-sized economic development office.”

“We have a lot of great things going on downtown, especially with some of the new apartment buildings coming in,” she said at the League of Women Voters event. “But when we had to discuss these issues, we heard a lot from voters that the city was more involved in economic development, more proactive and more aggressive. And if that’s a conversation we should have as a city, then I’m open to having that conversation.”

The Wheaton City Council consists of six members. Four council members represent the city’s four constituencies, while two members are elected at large. The election is on April 4th.


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