A subject of hot community speculation in recent weeks finally comes up for debate at the City Council Monday.

Aldermen will get a report from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz suggesting they authorize him to look for possible new uses and less expensive solutions for operating three city facilities.

A subject of hot community speculation in recent weeks finally comes up for debate at the City Council Monday.

Aldermen will get a report from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz suggesting they authorize him to look for possible new uses and less expensive solutions for operating three city facilities.

On the list for review are the Chandler-Newberger Community Center, the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and the Harley Clarke Mansion, now leased to the Evanston Arts Center.

In a memo to aldermen, Bobkiewicz notes that the city owns 20 major buildings in town as well as dozens of parks, playgrounds and other open spaces.

The memo says “there are very few instances” where the sale of city-owned property makes economic sense. But it suggests that in under some circumstances leasing city facilities to other entities could be appropriate.

He says the Chandler-Newberger Center, now 31 years old, provides an array of recreation programs — which generally are also available at the city’s two other recreation centers. He said he’s concerned about the city’s ability to financially support programs at all three.

Chandler, he says, because of its location next to the CTA station, could be appealing to arts groups and “is of a good size for a theater use.”

Or, he said, it could be leased to a non-profit that might provide recreation programs similar to those already in place at the center.

He said that because of its location, he believes it is the only community center that has viable options for alternate uses.

Bobkiewicz says he sees potential for the city to reduce its role at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and let its tenants “take leadership in the facility’s future.”

He said the city last month received a letter from leaders of four groups that use the center — the Piven Theater Workshop, Next Theater Company, Actors Gymnasium and the Evanston Arts Center — expressing interest in possibly acquiring the center as their permantent home.

Unlike Chandler, the Noyes building has substantial capital improvement needs — estimated at over $500,000 — that the city has been unable to fund in recent years.

Also facing deferred maintenance issues is the lakefront mansion leased to the Evanston Arts Center. Bobkiewicz says the arts center has expressed an interest in re-examining its relationship with the city and that in addition there could be other parties interested in using the facility.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. …”is of a good size for a theater use.”

    Theaters theaters everywhere!

    The bloated Grace to be built on Davis, the Above-GAP theater rebuild, the theater company's on Howard!

    We cannot get (read: support) enough!

  2. Closing Chandler isn’t worth a plugged nickel

    The City Council recently bought THREE Howard Street properties, totalling more than $1 million. One of those buildings – 727-729 Howard – is being considered as a possible new home for the Polarity Ensemble Theatre. 

    I'm OK with selling the Noyes Cultural Arts Building to it's tenants but how can Wally say with a straight face that maybe Chandler can be appealing to art groups and "is of a good size for a theater use?" How many buildings does the city need to buy to lease to art and theatre groups?

    Let's not forget that the city set up a committee to explore the option of reconverting a downtown building back to it's original state – a theatre. How much money would Evanston make if it sold Chandler or leased it to a theatre group? Wally doesn't say.

    Evanston last year purchased two properties near the high school for hundreds of thousands of dollars, property that didn't sell on the open market. Within the last year, the City Council agreed to spend almost $1.5 million to buy these aforementioned properties in TIF districts without indicating what their use would be.

    Meanwhile, Wally is considering selling Chandler, which is nearly self-sufficient and is peanuts to operate. Why isn't the Fleetwood Community Center on the chopping block or the building next to it, housing a non-profit organization? (D65 set up a committee to explore the option of building a NEW Fifth Ward school.)

    Why won't the city sell 1817 Church? It gave that building and $200,000 in CDBG grants to a group to open a museum. About seven years later, there was no museum, the building was in poor shape and the money was long gone. Put it up for sale – maybe a theatre group will buy it.

    In 2008, the City Council agreed to a contract to sell land it owns on the 700 block of Chicago Avenue for $900,000 to AMLI Residential. In May, AMLI came to the city asking for a 15 percent price reduction for the sale! Why didn't the city close the sale in 2008? 

    At the same time the city splurges on buying property without any clear idea how the city will use it, it closes branch libraries and now wants to close and sell off Chandler while it gives the adjacent golf course a break in paying it's water bill.

    Folks, the gist of our budget problems is labor cost not the branch libraries or a recreation center.  Wally and the City Council continue to ignore the elephant in the room. You can't keep giving PAY RAISES to union employees in the fifth year of a severe economic crisis and expect to balance the city budget.

    It's time to start laying off firefighters, close down one of the two Central Street Fire Stations, consolidate fire and ambulance services, eliminate the duplicative Evanston Township Assessor's Office and enact an across the board freeze on pay raises and overtime pay.

    If union employees don't like it then let them search for jobs elsewhere. Good luck on that because it's a buyer's market in the labor industry in case the City Council and Wally haven't noticed.

    The City Council last month agreed to give a pay raise to the Police Sergeant's Union, and is negotiating two more union labor contracts.

    If enough folks demand the City Council get serious on cutting labor costs perhaps the City Council and Wally would take notice. Then there's the upcoming elections that might get their attention..

    1. While I agree the writer’s

      While I agree the writer's sentiments, that the city shouldn't be buying more buildings considering our financial situation (perhaps past purchases like those probably contributed to it). Chandler, and all the other buildings, should be sold. Nearly self-sufficient isn't self sufficient for Chandler. The old adage "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades" applies here. If they are truly well-run and in demand, they would not need our subsidy as their sold out performances would pay market rent to a private landlord. It is a burden to us taxpayers in any imaginable way. Any money subsidizing them cannot go to pay for other, actually useful services and holding the building forgoes using the money we could have sold it for. These are, what business folks call, opportunity costs. While I think theater can be entertaining and useful for some, I don't think it is fair to ask the tax payers to foot any of the bill, especially true when we have more pressing issues.Someone was shot on Sunday, perhaps these funds would be better allocated toward preventing crime. Private donors can surely do what they please with their own money, and support the theaters if they choose.

  3. Chandler shouldn’t be for sale…

    It saddens me that the city is trying to sell Chandler-Newberger. I disagree that the programs it offers are available at the other centers. The programs at Chandler are much better organized and closer to public transportation. We live in South Evanston and travel north to attend programs at Chandler. I think that the city is making some shortsighted decisions that will make it less desirable for families to move or remain in Evanston. I'm not sure of the value of recruiting an arts group or theater to the location. I don't think that is the real motivation for selling this property. We will know the truth when a sport facility for Northwestern University or otherwise moves to that location. Maybe the new "arts group" will also be the nonprofit that keeps Evanston in the "business of recreation" for its taxpaying families and provide programs and camps for families as Chandler has for many years. Save Chandler.

  4. More Leadership needed

    I really don't understand why the city just paid over $300,000 to acquire a building on Howard street, for a possible theater,  when they can not even afford to keep the successful theater building within Noyes.  Where is the aldermanic leadership here? 

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