The City of Evanston, which acquired the shuttered Boocoo cultural center on Church Street last month, gave it a new name this week.
Evanston aldermen Monday night approved plans to call the building at 1823 Church St. the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center — naming it after two African-American businessmen who once owned businesses on the block.
Thomas Gibbs owned the one-time Sinclair gas station on the northeast corner of the intersection of Church Street and Dodge Avenue — and some of the angled footprint of the old station building was incorporated into the Boocoo structure when it was renovated several years ago.
William H. “Doc” Morrison, a registered pharmacist, owned Morrison’s Pharmacy, which was located for many years in what later became the Boocoo building.
Parks Director Joe McRae says the city’s Public Works Department is currently making repairs to the building, and that a ceremony is planned for Feb. 28, the last day of Black History Month, to formally unveil the new name.
Plans are being developed for the Parks Recreation and Community Services Department to operate and provide programming at the 5,000 square foot center.
He said program offerings — many similar to what Boocoo formerly offered — may included dance classes, art exhibits, concerts and health and fitness classes. The building also contains a restaurant kitchen and cafe space which may be rented to a cafe operator.
McRae said he plans to work with the public library, the black history group Shorefront, the McGaw YMCA and the city’s two school districts to develop programming for the center and expects it will officially reopen in June.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she thought it would be better to convert the space for retail use — which she said is much needed at that location.
“It looks like we’re going to repeat exactly what was there with Boocoo, but failed,” Rainey said “I thought, when the city purchases it, that it would put it out on the open market. If a public body was going to buy the building, Rainey suggested, the high school, less than a block away, should have done it.
But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said the city can’t afford to have the property stand empty. “Since we own the building we might as well do something with it,” Holmes said. “But once someone sees a successful programe there,” Holmes said, “someone may want to purchase it for commercial use.”
“A cultural center doesn’t have to be there forever,” she added.