Northlight Theatre officials persuaded Evanston’s Land Use Commission Wednesday night to recommend approval of changes to the planned building’s front façade — citing soaring costs for building materials as the reason for the change.

An evening view of the previous design.

Northlight’s architect, Craig Smith, said that since the design for the theater at 1012-1016 Church St. downtown was approved by the city in 2019, supply chain issues created by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have dramatically increased the cost of many building supplies, and “glass prices have just skyrocketed.”

The original design, Smith said, called for two layers of glass across the front façade. “We came to the conclusion,” he added, “that we wanted a simpler façade that would let people look into the lobby and see what’s there.”

He said the new design “downplays the architecture” but still provides an all-glass face for the building.

Several members of the Land Use Commission expressed misgivings about the change. George Halik said it “is quite a step down.” Brian Johnson called it “a downgrade aesthetically.”

But Smith said the design team “went through a long process of value engineering, evaluating almost every aspect of the building and made hundreds of decisions to cut costs.”

Tim Evans, Northlight’s executive director, said the depth of the building toward the alley has been reduced along with the size of the basement. He added that it looks like they’ll also have to eliminate a planned balcony for the theater to shave another $1 million from the budget.

He said the theater has already had to raise its fundraising goals for the project. Not changing the façade, he said, would likely add another $750,000 to the project costs.

“It’s not an easy fundraising environment,” Evans said, “between inflation, the falling stock market and the coming recession that everybody’s thinking about.”

“We are making progress,” Evans added, “We are getting to our goal. But if we can’t have this modification, that will delay us more.”

After hearing the explanations for the proposed change from Smith and Evans, Commissioner Max Puchtel said, “It’s not an egregious change; it’s pretty reasonable.”

John Hewko said that while he preferred the original design, Northlight’s return “is extremely important for the city. It needs to happen.”

“And we are in unusual times,” Hewko added, “with a once-in-a-century pandemic, a war like we haven’t seen since World War II, and a difficult fundraising environment.”

“We don’t want to make the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he concluded.

The commission ultimately voted 8-0 to recommend that the City Council approve the proposed change to the theater’s planned development ordinance.

The City Council has approved spending $2 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to support project that would return Northlight to Evanston, where it was founded decades ago, from its current location in Skokie.

In other actions Wednesday night, the Land Use Commission:

  • Recommended that the City Council repeal an ordinance provision that would bar continued operation of Lakeside Auto Rebuilders at 3101 Central St. if the ownership changed.
  • Approved a zoning variation to permit a proposed addition to a home at 2125 Madison Place to intrude into the side yard setback.
  • Rejected an appeal of the zoning administrator’s denial of zoning variations for building lot coverage and impervious surface coverage to permit construction of a two-car garage at a home under construction at 2012 Maple Ave.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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