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City seeks grant for performing arts center study

The Evanston City Council voted Monday to seek a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to conduct a feasibility study  of converting a portion of the old Varsity Theater downtown into a performing arts center.

The grant would require a $50,000 local match, which the city plans to take from funds in the Washington National tax increment financing district.

The Evanston City Council voted Monday to seek a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to conduct a feasibility study  of converting a portion of the old Varsity Theater downtown into a performing arts center.

The grant would require a $50,000 local match, which the city plans to take from funds in the Washington National tax increment financing district.

The Varsity Theater at 1710 Sherman Ave. was built nearly a century ago as one of the largest movie houses in the Chicago suburbs. After it closed in the 1980s, the theater marquee was removed and the first floor of the building was converted to retail space now occupied by The Gap and Design Within Reach.

City parks chief Doug Gaynor says the feasibility study would have five components:

  1. A general market study to determine the demand for theater space in Evanston and the region and better understand the types of users that might occupy the space.
  2. An architectural study of how the space could be renovated and possibly expanded, including the feasibility of having the theater entrance on the alley side of the building and of possibly expanding upward to increase the building’s height to four stories.
  3. A financial study to provide construction and marketing costs estimates and potential lease values.
  4. A next steps analysis to identify potential funding sources for construction and renovation work.
  5. An operational business plan to identify potential tenants, lease structures and revenues.

The city must submit a letter of intent to the NEA by March 15. If the letter of intent is accepted, the city would submit a formal grant application. The grants are expected to be awarded to about 15 cities nationwide and range in size from $25,000 to $250,000.

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