Evanston aldermen tonight will be asked to spend up to $40,000 to develop designs for a planned theater building on Howard Street.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says that after a request for proposals this spring identified six theater companies interested in moving to Howard Street, city staff has narrowed the field to two groups that “have the capacity to fundraise to complete a captial campaign to participate in funding the project.”

The proposed theater site is city-owned property at 717-723 Howard that includes a 4,000 square foot building and two vacant lots.

The vacant city-owned building at 721-723 Howard St. that may become a theater space.

The architect to be hired with the city funds would “develop conceptual and bid-level drawings” for the project, according to a memo to aldermen from Bobkiewicz, that would represent a “vanilla box” theater.

The memo, which doesn’t name the two theater companies, suggests that they could then retain their own architects to come up with more detailed designs suitable for their program and productions.

The memo says the plan envisions expanding from the existing building onto the vacant lots to provide a flexible theater space that could seat up to 150 people plus theater offices, dressing rooms, a box office/lobby/bar area and rehearsal, shop and storage space.

Advocates see the theater plan as part of an ongoing effort to revive the commercial district on Howard, which already has seen the opening of two restaurants in city-owned buildings nearby — with the theater expecte to, among other things, generate additional customers for the restaurants.

In 2013 the City Council rejected a plan to develop a theater on another city-owned site on the same Howard Street block after cost estimates for the project soared from $600,000 to $1.7 million.

The memo prepared for tonight’s council meeting makes no mention of an estimate for the total cost of the new project or what proportion of the cost the chosen theater group would be expected to raise.

The memo says the $40,000 for the initial city-funded architectural work is to be taken from the Howard-Ridge tax increment financing district account and would be covered by rent payments already received from other city-owned properties on Howard.

Update 11:35 a.m. 9/22/15: Aldermen approved the plan to fund the design work for the theater on a 7-2 vote Monday night with aldermen Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and Brian Miller, 9th Ward, voting no. More detail on the discussion here.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. No way!

    No taxpayer money should be used for this even if it come from the phony TIF slush fund. Taxpayers have been burdened by a handful of people who want special projects provided for them at the expense of the majority who could care less about it. The city government should spend its time and taxpayer money on running the city not paying for/supporting every special interest.

  2. Why should taxpayers pay
    I agree with “Guest”. Why should taxpayers pay for something that any one of the six “interested parties” would have to do to move forward with this project?

    This money would be better spent retaining any of a number of valuable positions that are being eliminated.

    Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

  3. No!

    The City needs to get out of the welfare business subsidizing ever arts and theatre group and organization.  They non profits.  We have plenty of theaters and arts places.  Heck, saunter on down to the EAC to see how this particular group used the City and taxpayers… Sick.  Non profits are great, but don't turn a profit.  Think about that.  Same applies for the HC mansion, not sure what Evanston and those NIMBYS have against for profit entities, other than it is not in the Liberal credo…  Sad.

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