A short-handed Evanston City Council postponed action Monday night on a plan to lease the former police outpost at 633 Howard St. as office and rehearsal space for Strawdog Theatre Company.

Some aldermen voiced concerns about information accompanying the 18-month lease proposal that indicated that finding a new permanent home for the theater company on Howard could end up costing upwards of $5.5 million, or roughly 10 times preliminary cost estimates when the city was talking about having a different theater group locate on Howard four years ago.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that information was just meant to show the latest discussions the city has had with Strawdog and that the council would have a separate decision to make about financing for a theater project later on.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the two aldermen absent from the meeting — Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Brian Miller, 9th Ward — had both asked that the lease proposal be held for two weeks until they could be present.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, seconded Wilson’s motion, saying that the previous discussion of the proposal, at the city’s Economic Development Committee meeting on April 27 had been very confusing.

The city previously sought proposals for a new use for the outpost, and received just one — from the owners of the Good to Go Jamaican Cuisine restaurant across the street on the Chicago side of Howard.

But when Strawdog, whose current home in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is about to be demolished, found a new, temporary performance space on the Chicago side of Howard but failed to locate temporary rehearsal and office space, city officials declined to move forward with the restaurant plan for the outpost and proposed the lease to the theater group instead.

Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the outpost building, has long backed creating a live theater venue on Howard as part of an effort to revitalize the commercial strip on Evanston’s southern border.

Rainey said there was no guarantee the restaurant would be selected for the outpost property and the owners have three years left on the lease on their current location.

There was no detail in the information about development of a permanent theater space on Howard regarding how much of the money for it might be raised by the theater company and how much city taxpayers would be asked to provide.

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Howard theater cost estimate nearly triples (1/14/13)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. Council Priorities

    Maybe the Council should list in order its priorities

    #1 Seems to be theater construction and art of any kind

    #2 Gifts to businesses.

    #? Roads/Sewers

    #? Attracting business without gifts/subsidies

    #? Schools

    #? Crime

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