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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Godspeed…as long as you

    Godspeed…as long as you only plan to spend you own money, not seek a subsidy from our broke city.

  2. This Sounds Terrific!

    I hope it happens.  A music venue in this part of town is welcome.

  3. Sounds great, get this going

    This is exciting and a great idea for the space. Everybody in the city will agree and David should get a high five!! 

    1. Everybody in the city will agree?

      "This is exciting and a great idea for the space. Everybody in the city will agree"


      Not so fast….this is Evanston, after all.  I am sure that we will have some NIMBYs who will complain about the noise that this 'music hall' will create.

      And of course, the traffic…..traffic is always an issue.

      1. Everybody agrees?

        Dr Who Knows What?

        Of course not everyone will agree. It is not tall enough. Since 708 Church deflated, how can we distinguish Evanston from its adjacent suburbs? It is also missing — at least at this point — a drain on city revenues. Could we locate the City Government there?

    1. My concern, as well…

      Why displace an existing (and presumably viable) business when there is so much empty storefront acreage needing to be filled?

  4. The rich get richer

    The rich get richer. I am always surprised when these new businesses find existing sites in downtown Evanston to locate. Is there an effort by the city council to spread the wealth around. There seems to be a  notion that customers will not patronize certain types of businesses if it is not located in the familiarity of downtown.  Just asking if there are no options in the Dempster / Dodge corridor. 

  5. Grace?

    We have the wonderful Evanston S.P.A.C.E. with frequent acoustic offerings  Am doubtful the community can or will support both. A replacement for the smaller Bill's Blues across the street would be very desirable and welcome.

  6. Parking for 520 patrons is where?

    PLUS the parking for staff and musical performers and their crew? 

    What about the empty old Borders?  What about the empty NEW Borders?  The latter being directly near an existing parking structure.  If they're willing to demolish an existing building and build new, it seems like they could manage to adapt a space we already have that's empty.

    (And I'd hate to see Tom Thumb be lost, we need more details on their fate.)

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