Evanston aldermen split 5-4 Monday night in approving payment to Ross Barney Architects of $12,505 for revised design drawings for a scaled-down version of a new theater project on Howard Street.

The original plans, budgeted at $39,865, lost their relevance last June when Strawdog Theatre Company backed out of talks with the city to lease the city-owned storefront at 721-723 Howard.

A rendering of the exterior of the Strawdog concept developed by Ross Barney.

Those plans had been pegged as having a minimum cost of $5.5 million to implement, roughly three times the price of a theater project the City Council had rejected for another building on Howard in 2013.

The latest plans, to fit the cabaret-style programming of the city’s second-choice for a partner for the Howard project, Theo Ubique, have a cost estimate of $1.6 million.

The new project concept was scheduled to have been reviewed by the city’s Economic Development Committee at a meeting this Wednesday, but that meeting now has been cancelled to let participants watch the Chicago Cubs play in the World Series. The review is now scheduled to take place at the EDC’s Nov. 16 meeting.

Some of the objections to paying the bill from the architect Monday appeared to arise because aldermen weren’t familiar with the background material posted online for the EDC meeting.

Opposition to the payment was led by Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward. He was joined in voting no by aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and Mark Tendam, 6th Ward.

The non-profit Theo Ubique company, which says its name is a combination of Theo (pronounced thee-oh), “an ancient Greek word meaning god (as in a universal force),” and Ubique (pronounced oo-bah-kway), Latin for “everywhere,” was founded in 1997 and has performed since 2004 in the 60-seat No Exit Café space in Rogers Park.

The latest plans call for Theo Ubique to raise about $200,000 toward the project cost and anticipate the company would take occupancy of the buiding in July 2018.

The theater group would pay rent starting at $3,800 per month, rising to $6,105 per month in the third year, with increases based on the consumer price index after that.

The deal anticipates a 10 year lease with four five-year renewal options, and an option to purchase the property from the city after 20 years.

In information provided to the city, the theater group’s leaders say they sell out in their current space and see the option increasing their seating capacity by nearly 50 percent as a key reason for seeking to move to Evanston.

In financial reports submitted to the city, the group says it has had revenue of between $248,000 and $304,000 a year over the past four years, with a net income after all expenses of between $3,000 and $30,000 each year.

Related stories

New plot twist for Howard theater (6/14/16)

Howard theater lease delayed again (5/23/16)

Howard theater cost estimat triples again (5/9/16)

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

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Ann Rainey Theatre

    Developer's need to budget for a change in signage from Howard Street Theatre to Ann Rainey Theatre. There will be a theatre  on this site come hell or high water. As things change, the next iteration will be a tent and a beer truck. Hey ,I would support that!

  2. Not worth the cost
    At the given rates of $3,800 for two years and $6,105 for eight years, the city will collect just $586,080 in rent over ten years. Surely, people who go to see shows there will spend money nearby as well, but the potential benefits really don’t justify an expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

  3. NU already provides music and theater aplenty

    NU has more than enough for anyone who wants to go—or says they will/would go to music'/theater to impress their friend–but don't go.  Besides we are already loaded down with all the theater and music by other groups.

    Evanston has many more needs much more important. If the Council can't think of anything else to do with our tax money—return it to us !

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