A concept for enhancing Bookman’s Alley in the 1700 Block of Sherman Avenue in downtown Evanston was unveiled at a 1st Ward meeting Tuesday evening.
Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager, said Steve Rogan, the long-time owner of the former Varsity Theater building south of the alley, has acquired from Northwestern University the ground lease for the Huntley Building on the north side of the alley at 1718 Sherman Ave. and is expected to acquire control of the Huntley Building itself within the next nine months.
Zalmezak showed a rendering of a concept for redeveloping the alley that Rogan has proposed to city officials.
Zalmezak said Rogan hopes to create an adaptive reuse of the theater building — maybe punch some windows on the north side of the building to provide a view onto an upgraded cobblestone alley with festival lighting.
“The idea is to activate the space for people to hang out and enjoy the uniqueness of Evanston,” Zalmezak said.
The Varsity building currently is vacant after its two first-floor retail tenants closed. The upper level of the theater space has been vacant for decades.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she was concerned about the idea of vacating the alley for commercial development. “That’s really problematic for me,” she said, suggesting instead that it might only be closed for a portion of the day — with access allowed overnight for delivery trucks. But she said the design “looks very nice.”
In 2017 developers had proposed demolishing the three-story Huntley building and other structures north of Bookman’s Alley to construct a 37-story hotel and apartment development that also would have included a new home for the Northlight Theatre.
Northlight since has announced plans to build a new home on Church Street, but the pandemic has stall progress on that development.
Downtown Evanston Executive Director Annie Coakley said she’s heard from at least 16 movie theater operators interested in taking over the shuttered Century Theatre space on Maple Avenue.
“We are very confident this will once again be a movie theater,” Coakley said. But she said it might not have as many screens as the 18 in the Century complex and might have some of the space reconfigured for other entertainment uses.
She also said the shuttered Orrington Hotel is likely to reopen after an anticipated sale, which might be at “40-cents on the dollar” to the $60 million the current owners paid for it in 2015.