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Howard theater cost estimate nearly triples

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Evanston aldermen tonight will be asked to spend nearly $1.7 million to convert two empty storefronts on Howard Street into a theater — nearly triple the preliminary cost estimates for the project.

The plan for the building is backed by Alderman Ann Rainey whose 8th Ward includes Howard Street. Rainey envisions the storefronts at 727-29 Howard that once housed a storefront church as the new home for the Chicago-based City Lit Theatre Company.

Top: A rendering of the completed theater conversion. Above: The vacant city-owned Howard Street buildings last summer.

Preliminary cost estimates from seven months ago suggested that the conversion work — including raising the roof to accommodate a theatrical stage — would run about $600,000.

But the low bid for the project, from Boller Construction of Waukegan, came in at $1.65 million.

The city is negotiating a lease-to-own agreement for the buiding with the theater company, but provisions of that deal were not included in the packet for tonight's City Council meeting.

An earlier draft of an agreement with City Lit called for the theater group to pay $1,800 a month in rent and have the option to purchase the building for the $325,000 the city originally paid to acquire it.

The non-profit theater company, according to its most recent publicly available filings with the Internal Revenue Service, lost nearly $7,000 on revenues of just under $164,000 in its fiscal year ending in June 2011 and had liabilities that exceeded its assets.

memo to aldermen from Community and Economic Development Director Steve Griffin says the city will borrow money for the construction work from a line of credit it has negotiated with First Bank and Trust and eventually refinance the loan through bonds to be repaid from anticipated revenue from the Howard-Ridge tax increment financing district.

City Lit's artistic director, Terry McCabe, and several other board members are Evanston residents.

Relate stories

More time sought for Howard theater plan (June 25, 2012)

City makes arts bet on Howard Street (Jan. 24, 2012)

Theater group seeks Howard Street space (Jan. 23, 2012)

Related documents

City staff memo on City Lit project (Jan. 8, 2013)

City Lit IRS 990 Form 2010 (GuideStar.org)

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