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Evanston’s Economic Development Committee will be asked Wednesday to recommend City Council approval of a new plan to try to bring live theater to Howard Street.

City staff will seek approval to develop a request for qualifications to seek a new theater operator on the 700 block of Howard where the city now owns three storefront buildings.

Efforts to bring a theater to Howard Street date back at least four years, to when the city acquired the first of the three buildings. And talks with two theater groups — Polarity Ensemble Theatre and City Lit Theatre — were held — but fell apart over financing.

In a memo, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says staff held a focus group meeting with representatives of several theater groups last month and hopes to work with the Leauge of Chicago Theatres to identify potential prospects for the property.

Bobkiewicz says participants in the focus group agreed that creating a theater space that could seat 100 to 150 people on Howard was feasible and that it would would be attractive to many theater companies in Chicago.

The city-owned properties are at 717, 721-23 and 727-29 Howard.

Related stories

Aldermen reject Howard theater plan (1/15/13)

Theater hopes for new home on Howard (6/14/11) 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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10 Comments

  1. No money for Harley Clarke, but money for this?

    Last time they wanted to bring this up, it was voted down – since it was going to cost $2 million.

    How much this time?  This is NOT economic development, but support of the Arts, given the much smaller budget the city funds for the arts, this does not work. This did not work last time – and it will not work this time!

  2. Hope Taxpayer pay $0
    If independent parties want to buy the land and building and do EVERYTHING, that is their choice.
    But the taxpayers should not have one cent at risk, no ‘special pricing’ of land or building, no city involvement other than permits and inspections, not city tax relief.
    It must be an ‘arms length’ transaction.

    1. waiting for Godot

      "If independent parties want to buy the land and building and do EVERYTHING, that is their choice."

      OK….and what if no independent parties are willing to buy the property?    Should the City let Howard Street decay  while waiting for the magic Free Market solution? 

      Can anyone cite any examples of any American cities where this has actually happened…an old, rundown street is magically revitalized by private investors who want to fix up a neighborhood, with no tax incentives or subsidies?

      [  Please don't give me stories about developers building new shopping centers on cornfields near the highway, or new developments in Barrington ….I want to hear about rundown parts of old cities being revitalized. ]

      1. Here’s two

        The West Loop along the Randolph corridor boomed with the privately held Harpo Studios as the catalyst. The North/Clybourne corridor has done pretty well since the privately held Steppenwolf Theatre became a neighbor.

        1. North and Clyborn
          This was one I was going to site. Steppenwolf was the result, not the cause. From the Ravenswood CTA I could see [what I assumed were YUPPIEs] buying houses/duplex and fixing them up. When they reached critical mass [a bad area where they did not want their houses to stand out], then business started moving in. Same with much of North Ave along from Wells to Clyborn. Until this occurred the Ravenswood/Express route along there was vacant lots where kids threw rocks at the CTA trains–esp. bad when the cars had glass windows in the 1970s.

      2. Well reasoned tax incentives

        Well reasoned tax incentives for a private investor that can create a sustainable business and many jobs makes sense. These investors have many choices; nothing wrong with locking them up as a partner. On the other hand, buying buildings in a run down neighborhood, carrying the costs and farming them off in a fire sale is not the kind of development that makes me think our tax dollars are well spent.

        1. Well Said
          Nicely stated. Government subsidies and tax incentives to responsible, community-concerned businesses can often be a win-win situation. To arrive at such a situation, however, the government making the decision needs to be rigorous about due diligence, transparency, and debate. It is on those last counts that our local government so often comes up short. Unsurprisingly, the efforts continue to fail, and then they throw up their hands and wonder why.

  3. Why Howard Street?

    Why not look at the Old Reclycling Center as the Theatre (might already have the needed height) and convert the current shelter into a resturant/bar?

  4. Whence the money ?

    The city wants to build and own a theater but then they complain about the state not providing money for social services ? Don't the residents see the "Emperor has no clothes" ? The Council can "find" money for theaters, music, arts groups and on and on but then cries no money for social services ? Where will the money come from ? If they already have the cash, why not use it for social services now. If by selling bonds that means investors [I assume mostly Evanston taxpayers] have less money to spend for other things like bonds for social service projects or cash for the same. It will have many years [10, 20 ?] for revenue [not explained how or how much the city gets] to pay off the bonds—even if the venture is successful and does not fold. In any event the opportunity cost is not having the funds "now" for other things like social services. Likewise if by taxes, at least some will come from the poor and needy the city claims already don't have enough and middle/high income taxpayers have or are willing to spend on social service needs—via the city or charities. Once again the city spends on one hand and then complains they don't have money—always blaming someone else [the governor, the rich, or the "man behind the tree" for not providing for education, social services, housing, etc..

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