News - Kane County

‘Iconic’ Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin one step closer to $6M addition

The Hemmens Cultural Center would gain a balcony, an indoor/outdoor box office and main floor bathrooms once a proposed expansion is complete

The more than 50-year-old Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin is one step closer to a $6 million facelift that officials say will ensure its future for “decades to come.”

Elgin City Council members this week gave preliminary approval for an architectural and engineering contract with Cordogan Clark & Associates to oversee the final design, bidding and construction of a nearly 11,000-square-foot addition to the north side of the building.

“This will continue to make the Hemmens an attractive venue for the community and the region for decades to come,” Assistant to the City Manager Amanda Harris said. “And it will further solidify Elgin’s burgeoning reputation as a city of the arts.”

The Elgin City Council has given preliminary approval for an architectural and engineering contract to oversee a nearly 11,000-square-foot addition to the Hemmens Cultural Center.

The proposed renovation would feature an angled addition with a balcony. It would be designed in a steel and glass style that complements the rest of the building.

The balcony would allow for covered patron drop-off below and a new indoor/outdoor reception area and gathering space above. Long-awaited bathrooms would be added to the first floor, and a new box office would allow patrons access from inside and outside the building.

The Hemmens Cultural Center could be getting a major facelift if a $6 million addition and renovation is approved. The reception area and box office would have indoor and outdoor access.

The project also would add more office and storage space, repair parts of the building and address water leakage problems.

No major changes are planned to the theater or stage, though a new loading dock would allow trucks to back right up to the stage.

“It’s been a long time coming,” council member Tish Powell said. “I think this is a huge asset to the community, and I definitely look forward to the changes that are being proposed.”

The building was constructed in the 1960s as part of the development of Civic Center Plaza. Originally called the Hemmens Community Building, the name honors Elginite and heiress Hattie Pease Hemmens, whose $1.25 million donation helped lead to the plaza’s creation. The entire plaza project with land acquisition and construction of six buildings cost about $12 million.

Construction of the Mies van der Rohe-style Hemmens building was completed in 1969 and was designed by the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, famous for its designs of the Sears Tower, John Hancock Center and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The renovation was designed by Allen + Pepa Architects. Eric Pepa called the original design “iconic” and said the firm didn’t want to alter the overall look of the building.

“We wanted to work with that and make this look new and modern but not detract from the original building,” Pepa said. “It’s a glass jewel box.”

The Hemmens has been the subject of numerous studies and concerns over the years, starting with a feasibility study in 1999. Council members in 2007 debated whether the city should renovate the building or consider rebuilding. Others argued over the years that the 1,200-seat auditorium was too big for local acts but too small for national talent.

In 2015, a task force created by the city issued a 42-page report deeming the building structurally sound but “in serious need of updating and major upgrades to extend its useful life.”

Many of those recommendations have found their way into the planned addition.

As for the size, Harris said the venue has found its niche with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra as the anchor tenant. The venue is booked for about 90% of the year.

There’s not really a desire at this point to add more seats because it really has found its audience,” Harris said.

The council will have a final vote on the $471,878 contract at its next meeting. If construction is approved, the roughly $6.2 million project would be funded with revenue from the city’s Central TIF district, where property tax money going to local governments is frozen at a certain point and taxes above that goes into development.

The proposed timeline anticipates a final design to be completed by December. Bidding and negotiations are expected to happen in January, with construction starting in February.

Harris said the hope is to complete construction by September 2023.

“The building is a cultural icon here in Elgin,” Harris said. “I’m so excited about this project. It’s going to make the building new.”