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City deal doesn’t require Piven to boost audience

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Piven Theatre Workshop officials claim they’ll deliver 200 nights a year of theater performances if the city gives them a big loan, cut-rate rent for the next half century and more than doubles the group’s space at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

But a proposed agreement with the city imposes no obligation on Piven to deliver on the promise of an increased audience and provides no penalty for failure to deliver.

The agreement does require that Piven:

  • Raise up to $1.35 million in cash and in-kind contributions to match a $2.2 million loan from the city,
  • Build out the space with those funds and eventually pay off the loan,
  • Make the theater space available to the city-run Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater for up to eight weeks a year, and
  • Provide a “community engagement program” valued at $8,876 a year or pay that amount in additional rent.

Piven officials say the non-profit group has produced about 26 nights a year of theater performances in its current 70-seat theater in recent years and on average filled about 65 percent of the seats.

They anticipate increasing their own productions and renting space to other theater groups to achieve the nearly 2,400 percent increase in attendance.

To make room for the Piven expansion, the city has been easing out other tenants at Noyes who have been paying around $14 per square foot per year.

Under the proposed deal with the city, Piven would lock in a rent rate averaging less than $3 per square foot per year for 53 years, with most of the payments deferred until the last 20 years of the deal.

That represents a net cost to the city — excluding the impact of inflation — of more than $6.5 million, compared to what other tenants now pay.

In addition, Piven will have 30 years to pay back the $2.2 million city loan at a below-market 2 percent interest rate.

The city’s economic development staff has projected that if Piven fills the expanded 200-seat theater to 75 percent capacity on 200 nights a year, the patrons it draws could generate an extra $613,000 a year in revenue for local businesses.

Assuming most of that added business is at local restaurants and that 30 percent of restaurant spending is subject to the city’s 6 percent liquor tax, that could mean about $25,000 a year in added liquor and sales tax revenue for the city, compared to about $1,000 a year generated by Piven’s current audience.

Over 53 years, that would amount to about $1.3 million — or roughly 20 percent of the rent the city could get from the Noyes space at current rates.

The Piven proposal is scheduled for introduction at tonight’s City Council meeting.

Changes to the proposal since it was forwarded to the full council last month without a recommendation by the Human Services Committee add about $90,000 to the rent Piven would pay over the term of the deal.

(Photo for Evanston Now by Anne Li.)

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