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The Strawdog Theatre Company, faced with the loss next June of its long-time home in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, hopes to find a new home in a city-owned property on Howard Street in Evanston.

The city’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday night recommended that the City Council approve a memorandum of understanding with Strawdog that seeks to reach a final agreement on the project no later than next Aug. 1.

The memo also envisions that Strawdog would find a temporary home for its 2016-17 season in another city facility while the theater space at 717-723 Howard was being constructed.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, in an interview earlier Wednesday, indicated the temporary location would likely be in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

Hank Boland, Strawdog’s artistic director, told the committee the 28-year-old theater group has dramatically grown its audience in recent years, increasing its audience from about 3,500 to more than 7,000 people by adding more productions.

Strawdog’s current location at 3829 N. Broadway in Chicago.

Strawdog’s existing space, on the second floor of a commercial building at 3829 N. Broadway has one stage that seats about 65 people and another performance space, in a bar, that can seat about 40. Boland says the whole block of storefronts there is scheduled to be torn down for redevelopment.

The Howard Street theater space in Evansston is envisioned as having a new, purpose-built auditorium seating over 100 people, and a second space in an existing retail storefront that could seat about 50.

Seth Rickard, Strawdog’s board president.

Strawdog Board President Seth Rickard said the Evanston location would be a perfect solution to the group’s housing challenge.

Since he joined the board in 2010, Rickard said, the current building “has been a sanctuary to these artists, but it’s been a financial drain because of increased rent, maintenance an repair costs that have put a strain on the company’s cash flow.”

While the non-profit Strawdog has dramatically increased its performance schedule in recent years, it continues to operate on an annual budget of roughly $200,000 and its latest financial reports show net assets of less thn $20,000.

Rickard said the group has increased its revenue from contributions from 40 percent five years ago to 51 percent last year and is putting more emphasis on special event fundraising, donations and grants.

The proposed memorandum of understanding envisions the city entering into a long term lease on the Howard Street property with Strawdog, with an option to purchase the building at some point in the future.

City Council action on the proposal is expected at the council’s next meeting on Monday, Nov. 9.

Related stories

Aldermen asked to pay for Howard theater design (9/21/15)

Six groups seek Howard theater space (7/8/15)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. Pay for the theater and you can come

    If Strawdog wants to come to Evanston, let them fundraise and build the theater. Why should Evanston taxpayers, many, many of whom are struggling to pay their bills, put food on the table and pay their taxes subsidize this theater group?

    Strawdog has a budget of $200,000 and less than $20,000 in the bank. And how many millions, yes millions, will this theater cost to build?

    If there is so much interest in building a theater on Howard Street, and i'm all for improving Howard Street (but not at taxpayers expense), then let Strawdog and their proponents start a fundraising campaign, similar to what Y.O.U. is doing to build their new building across from ETHS. Oh, and the City also wants to build another $37mm performing arts complex in downtown Evanston and then others want to spend $$$ on Harley Clarke, and what about the millions needed for Robert Crown?

    Does the tooth fairy really exist?

    1. Is there a sign on City Hall ?
      There must be a sign that I’ve not seen but every theater company has seen, “City of Evanston, Sucker for Every Arts Funding Project”
      Then again merchants must see another sign “Want Help Funding Awnings, Signs, Planters—Just Ask, No Request Refused.”

    2. No to the Tooth Fairy

      I agree with you. If Strawdog is looking out for a handout from the city and the city council has one ounce of brains, the answer should be no. If they need a loan to finance the project, they should talk to a bank, like every other average citizen in Evanston.

      Don't get me wrong, I would like to see  them perform on Howard.

      Art groups often fall short in honoring their contracts, Case in point is the Evanston Arts Center which screwed Evanston for a million-plus for over 40 years and is now being honored by the mayor. That says something about our mayor who may care more about her interests than the people of Evanston.

      I just hope that the council does not start another round of give-a-ways. Maybe the EAC can loan them some of the millions they raised in a matter of a few months earlier this year.

  2. Come to Evanston & Stay at Noyes!

    Forget Howard Street! Why not save money by relocating permanently to the old Next space? Here's the ugly truth: North Shore theatre patrons would much rather visit and spend time in and around the Noyes Cultural Arts Center than negotiate the parking and traffic and overall drabness that looms over Howard Street. Also, by staying on Noyes, Strawdog would have the opportunity to tap into the same wealthy audience base that contributed to the evolution of Writer's Theatre.

  3. howard street developments!

    I am all for a theater on Howard with a Long term lease and a chance to buy the building from the city. Does anyone know because Straw Dog is a not for profit does that mean they won't pay property tax? All the best Manon

    1. Will you lead the fund raising campaign?

      Where will the money come from to build this theater?

      A long term lease isn't worth the paper its written on unless Straw Dog and other theater groups stay in business and pay the rent. Talk with the owners of Chicago Chicken and Waffle about how you walk away from a lease.

      It's the ownership of the theater that would likely determine if property taxes are paid. Since the property is city owned, it won't pay property taxes, and hence it will be subsidized by other Evanston taxpayers. The lack of property taxes would enable the City to charge a lower rent.

      Manon, when you say "and a chance to buy the building from the city" does that mean at a discounted price like Peckish Pig or are you talking about fair market value? Why should some groups get "gifts" from Evanston City government when the rest of us get out of bed early in the morning, take a train to Chicago or drive to work, work 50-70 hours a week to pay our bills; mortgage, car loan, save for retirement, fund our kids college education, and oh, of course taxes to City of Evanston, schools, Cook County and State of Illinois?

      Who is looking out for the average taxpayer in Evanston?

      I know who is trying to spend our money and they don't need any more help coming up with ideas.

       

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