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Evanston Alderman Mark Tendam says he sees a lot of support developing for the idea of a new theater complex downtown that he proposed at a City Council meeting less than two weeks ago.

Tendam says he expects that three theater organizations will issue a news release Monday saying they back the concept.

Two of the groups are Piven Theatre Workshop and Next Theatre, both now housed at the city’s Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

He declined to name the third group ahead of the planned Monday announcement, but it is known that Northlight Theatre, which got its start in Evanston but is now housed in Skokie, has spoken with city officials about a possible move back to town.

Tendam says he’s spoken with a variety of political leaders, including U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky about the project and also has gotten an enthusiastic response from the Evanston Community Foundation and Downtown Evanston.

Tendam offered the downtown theater concept as an alternative to a proposal that Piven, prompted by city staff, had developed for it to greatly expand its space at Noyes.

That plan, which critics saw as being financially unfavorable to the city and other current tenants at Noyes, is still on the council’s agenda for a vote Monday night.

But Tendam says that because of an oversight in providing formal public notice of the proposed new lease it couldn’t be voted on at earliest until the council’s Aug. 12 meeting.

He added that in light of the new developments, he hopes Piven will put its plan for Noyes on hold.

The city has recently seen two different studies that looked at expanding arts offerings in town, the evanstARTs project with funding from the community foundation and a downtown arts study funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

But neither study offered any clear strategy for funding a new downtown theater.

Funding still remains the big stumbling block to the new project — but Tendam said he is optimistic some combination of government grants, local donors and possible private investors can be found to make the project a reality.

He said he sees the city serving as a catalyst for the project, but not being the major funder or the ultimate owner of the property.

He said each of the theater companies involved wants to have its own stage in the proposed building, but that it could have a shared lobby and other amentities, possibly including rental space for a restaurant that could generate additional revenue.

He said it wasn’t yet clear whether the project would require an exemption from city property taxes.

The alderman said no specific location has been identified for the project yet. He said he believes that a location west of the tracks, perhaps along Davis Street, would ideally match with city efforts to stimulate new development there, but that it could also end up elsewhere in the downtown area.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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11 Comments

  1. How about 1007 Church?

    I'm not clear what part of  "Davis Street west of the tracks" is being discussed, but has anyone considered 1007 Church St. (the Helmut Jahn building)  as a building ripe for remodeling/reconstruction  to accommodate theaters, with some office use?  

    The building is large, with modern electronics, and is well located west of the tracks near both parking garages and many restaurants.  It is vastly under-occupied, and the building is becoming an increasing eyesore for our neighborhood because it is not being maintained (crumbling steps and broken floors, accelerated by being deserted and poorly lit  at night which invites skate-boarders).

     It is already zoned commercial and can't be generating much revenue for the city in its present condition.  Turning that building into an asset generating sales tax revenue rather than a liability for Evanston  would also  be a shot in the arm for some of the  struggling  and new Davis Street businesses without threatening those  businesses and restaurants that are long -contributing citizens of our business community — Bennisons, Lemoi, Cozy's, Pine Yard, Gigio's, Tom Thumb, Studio Media recording studio, Audio Consultants — and without raising the commercial building height significantly on Davis Street . 

  2. Is it me or is city council’s

    Is it me or is city council's only goal to come up with new ways to waste our tax money? Its easy to 'commit to the arts' when you are not spending your own money. We can see how much demand there truely is for the arts if they put this theatre up for a public vote.

  3. Downtown theater

    What about the old Varsity Theater space? The GAP occupies part of it at present but otherwise the rococo interior is largely intact. It was in the balcony of that movie house where, as a teenager, I developed most of my social skills….Stuart Opdycke  1327 Hinman

    1. Referendum on proposed theater

      If the city is to commit any money, public space, loans, etc., there should be a public referendum first.

      As the city seems to want to make special deals, gifts, etc. a referendum on any such expenditures should be required.  Maybe that would have prevent the unbelieable price paid for Trader Joes land and stopped the city's involvement in wine bars and terms to owners that can only be termed as gifts.

      Maybe by giving taxpayers a real voice instead of saying the Council speaks for taxpayers, the Council would realize the residents and more importantly taxpayers don't support the 'artsy' interests of the Council and those pseudo-elite who give them support and votes.

  4. In any planning of this type,

    In any planning of this type, I hope careful thought will be given to the traffic congestion, especially along Ridge Avenue when patrons leave the theater. When would it be used? Daytime use would be difficult because of parking and traffic issues. This depends, of course, on the size of the theater.

  5. Downtown Theatre…

    Wouldn't if be GREAT if each and every time an idea sprouted for the development of a downtown anything  a suggestion was made to consider whether the 5th Ward had any available real estate for the new anything?

    I'd love to read an article that was titled "West Side 'Anything'" rather than yet another story about how yet another developement, business, building, etc. was being created for the downtown area of Evanston.

    I know private business owners choose where they wish to open their businesses, but in the case of anything that is going to be receiving city funds, why aren't all areas of Evanston being considered for city-funded projects? Especially if there is any chance the project will be city owned, in full or in part.

    Perhaps that was a consideration in this instance, but based on the statement, "…a location west of the tracks, perhaps along Davis Street, would ideally match with city efforts to stimulate new development there, but that it could also end up elsewhere in the downtown area", leads me to believe that no other area of Evanston was considered and certainly not the 5th Ward.

    I do know there has been some city investment in the 5th Ward, same as the 8th Ward, but in the realm of "city efforts to stimulate new development there", I sure would like to know how that sentiment applies, in the vein in which that statement was spoken, to the 5th Ward – or doesn't it?

    1. Downtown Theatre…

      Anna    I agree  perhaps its a subject and discussion that should come up in the meeting your Alderprson holds in the community. Have you ever raisied this thought?

      1. Downtown Theatre…

        Thank you too, Anonymous, for your comment. In fact, this type of conversation is an ongoing dialouge between the City, Alderman Holmes and her constiuents.

      1. For Anna

        Thank you Anonymous, for the link. It was a good read when I first read it and again today.

  6. Bait and switch

    So Evanston now wants to put an Arts Theatre in downtown Evanston which was originally promised back in the late 90's with the Hill development?  What goes around comes around except for the 1/4 billion Evanston has in debt. Unsustainable.

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