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Music theater planned for Davis downtown

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Plans for a 520-seat music theater on Davis Street downtown are scheduled to go before Evanston's Zoning Board of Appeals on July 19.

The project, dubbed the Grace Music Theater, is being developed by long-time Evanston resident David Colker and would replace the existing Tom Thumb hobby store at 1026 Davis St.

Colker says the new two-story theater building would provide a "state-of-the-art music performance space" and would be a "dramatic addition to public life downtown."

But Colker, a former president of the National Stock Exchange, said he's reluctant to discuss details of the project until it works its way through the zoning approval process.

Top: Diagrams included in the public notice of the ZBA meeting. Above: The existing Tom Thumb store.

The proposal submitted to the city calls for several zoning variations, including a three-foot increase in the permitted building height, to 45 feet, elimination of a required 15-foot rear yard setback and placement of a required loading dock in an access easement from the neighboring property.

Evanston's Community and Economic Development Director, Steve Griffin, said Colker's plans for the venue include a focus on acoustic music performed by singer-songwriters and also recording events at the space. They also include having a small restaurant in the new building.

Griffin said that, subject to community review of the proposal, city staff see it as a potentially significant addition to the city's cultural life.

The site is across the street from the former Bill's Blues bar and next door to the StudioMedia Recording Company, a long-time Evanston site for music production.

Colker declined to confirm a suggestion from Griffin that the recording studio may figure in plans for the new theater.

Creating new cultural venues has been one focus of recent community development efforts. Work is underway to create a new home on Howard Street for the Polarity Theatre Ensemble in a building acquired by the city and a city-funded consultant recently offered encouragement about the potential for creating a performing arts center in the former Varsity Theatre building or at another location downtown.

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