Evanston aldermen Monday night gave quick approval to plans for a 500-seat music performance space on Davis Street.

The City Council approved a three foot increase in the permitted height, to 45 feet, and eliminated a required 10 foot setback from the alley.

The project, dubbed the Grace Music Theater, is being developed by long-time Evanston resident David Colker and would replace the existing Tom Thumb Hobbies & Crafts store at 1026 Davis St. and incorporate the adjacent StudioMedia Recording Company at 1030 Davis.

The developer’s attorney, Gregg Graines, said the added height was needed to provide the best possible acoustics for the planned Grace Music Theater.

The plans had been approved by city staff July 13 and by the Plan Commission July 19 on a 4-3 vote.

Top: Attorney Gregg Graines describes the the project to aldermen on the Planning and Development Committee. Above: A floor plan showing how the new building would be linked to the existing recording studio property, and that the new building would include a small restaurant area facing Davis.

The aldermen also approved a last-minute change that would let the developer rent parking spaces for the venue at another location besides the city’s Sherman Plaza garage, if a closer parking option should become available.

And, after being told that Alderman Don Wilson favored the project, the council voted to suspend the rules and give immediate approval to the zoning changes, rather than waiting to take a second vote in September. Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes the site, was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Keep city financing out of the music center

    The city should not contribute or make any of the 'gifts' they seem to like to make, to this venture.  No bonds, no bond guarantee, or anything.

    Let it stand on its own if investors want to take the gamble.

    1. +1 The venture should survive


      The venture should survive without any subsidies.

      And as a resident of that block, I hope the construction is sound proof, so that those who do not attend a concert, do not have to hear it. The Bill's Blues venue had an issue with sound proofing. You could hear it a block and a half away. I love blues, but…

      Looking forward to in interesting performances.

  2. What about Tom Thumb and StudioMedia??

    WHY did the City Council vote to displace 2 SUCCESSFUL Evanston businesses? What about figuring out a way to use the already empty buildings (such as the ex-Borders) around town??? And Don Ward wasn't even there??? How careless, irresponsible, and moronic (and I am referring to the entire Council, not just Don Ward). Please explain yourselves.

    1. What about ’em?

      So the owners of buildings housing "successful businesses" should be forever barred from selling the buildings to someone who might have other plans for the properties?

      Sounds like a recipe for a ghost town.

      — Bill

      1. Great economics

        Of course the owners of "successful businesses" should not be barred from selling buildings to someone who might have other plans for the properties – where did you get that idea? Sorry – I didn't realize that Tom Thumb and StudioMedia had already made plans to relocate. If the new owners want to renovate and build a 500 seat theater in this booming economy, that is their prerogative. They can build on the success of Bill's Blues Bar across the street.

        It's a good thing we don't live in a town that already has plenty of empty store fronts, buildings, and parking.

        1. It is great economics

          This proposition sounds wonderful, and comparing it in any way shape or form to the failure of Bills Blues Bar is absurd.  Bills Blues failed for lots of reasons, nothing to do with the potential of live music in Evanston.  SPACE has proven live music in Evanston can work and Bills Blues was nothing but a testament to incapable management.

          As far as vacant store fronts, this proposal will help fill them up.  If this gets built those vacant storefronts suddenly become much much more attractive,  The synergy between live music and certain types of retail and restaurants is absolute.  The synergy created from what is there now is well, pretty obvious.

          This is exactly the type of great economic development that Evanston needs.

    2. What about it.

      I don't even understand this post, doesn't even make sense.  Nobody is displaced.  One successful business, Studio Media, wants to expand and create a music venue connected to their current building. 

      The other business, Tom Thumb, wants to sell, simple as that.  Maybe the internet is where they do most of their business now.  Maybe they are tired of operating the business after so many years and want to cash out and retire. Maybe whatever, who cares, it's nobody's business why they want to sell but their own.  It's not your business, it's not mine,  and it's not city councils. 

      And what the heck does Borders or any other building in town have to do with this transaction?  Something is moronic all right, not sure it's the council's vote though. 

    3. Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson

      And Don Ward wasn't even there?

      I'm sure somewhere Don Wilson is weeping at the level of his name recognition.

    4. Tom Thumb/StudioMedia

      I am not at all attached to this project, but do think it a somewhat intriguing idea.  I live in the immediate area, and would welcome high quality, live music nearby, in a space that doesn't leak sound in the way the blues bar did across the street.

      I can't imagine that this project would "displace" any business.  Surely Tom Thumb (whose fate I am also very eager to learn) either has retirement or movement plans in place – and whatever those are seem to me to be a matter between the business and the owner of the building, not the city.

      As for StudioMedia, it is very clear in the article, and the drawings, that they will continue to exist, and their current site will be incorporated into the theater, making them capable of recording the goings on – which is great.

      I also look forward to seeing the former Borders stores, and other empty buildings being used – but this is not the right project for them.  The most recent store would make a very awkward music hall…  long and skinny is not the way to go.

  3. What about Parking?

    I sometimes have a problem finding a parking space just to shop at Tom Thumb. Where will they accommodate parking for 500 people? Otherwise, I think it's an exciting idea to have such a venue in Evanston.

    1. There is an oversupply of car parking downtown

      I find it hard to believe that anyone could have a problem finding a place to park their car downtown. Every study done by the city shows that there is an oversupply of car parking. The Sherman Plaza garage is only 250 meters from the theater and that is NEVER close to capacity. Parking is not an issue.

      1. Parking issue

        Parking is not an issue if you don't mind and are able to walk "250 m" to and from the Sherman Plaza garage.

      2. 250 meters

        250 meters the wrong way down a one way street…

        People are far more likely to turn their car around the corner from the theater, park in the residential area that is directly adjacent to Davis St. than manage the navigation required to get back to Sherman Plaza and pay for it…

        1. On parking, you’re beating a dead horse

          I can agree that you will have a pile of overflow traffic parking in your neighborhood.  And, while your neighbors feel your pain, your complaints are likely going to fall on deaf ears.  If our city thinks they can make one nickel in sales tax, they aren't going to care a fig about the residents' quality of life.  I say this both from experience and from watching the goings-on in our town that have transpired in the time since the city staff were offered early-retirement a few years back.  We've lost our old regime intellectual capital and there is a new wind blowing up at city hall that is more interested in coercing dollars into coffers than it is in our residents… that is unless you have a dollar to offer up.

          At any rate, what you are likely to end up with will be parking meters on side streets and more circling of traffic enforcement vehicles… Incidentally, why aren't those parking enforcement employees on foot in our downtown area?  Wouldn't that save residents the cost of vehicles, vehicle maintenance and gas?

          On a side note, I've been wondering about the sudden interest in hosting theatres in Evanston.  We are buying property on Howard Street in an effort to coax a Wicker Park theatre to move here (on Howard???) and now we are going to approve a 500 seat theatre on Davis.  How much of our income can we spend on entertainment?  Will the new venues slough off revenue from the Century Theatre?  I don't have a vested interest in the answers, but it is rather interesting to note the sudden move toward theatres when we have some of the best theatres in the country just a train ride away in downtown Chicago.

          BTW – for those of you who think we have ample garage parking, I recently went to the Century Theatre and spent 25 minutes in a Maple garage traffic jam.  There wasn't a spot to be had on any of the floors/aisles that were not blocked off.  It was ridiculous and I'll think myself an idiot if I ever attempt to go into that garage again on a Friday or Saturday night. 

          1. Church Street garage and parking

            Parking in Maple on a Friday or Saturday night can admittedly be foolish. Think ahead, park in the Church Street garage, I have never seen a problem with that garage when the theatre lets out and it's basically the same distance away.  I value my time and decreased aggravation more than the 2 buck savings from the theatre parking subsidy.

            As far as the neighborhood around the proposed music theatre, parking angst is way overblown, as it always is with every proposed project in downtown.  These 300+ car projections are silly.  If it does becomes a truly serious issue, neighborhood permit parking after 5 or 6 in the evening will fix that easily enough.  So enough already with the parking hysteria.

  4. Is Tom Thumb Re-locating?


    Where will Tom Thumb go? Is it re-locating or going out of business? 


  5. Tom Thumb, Dodge and Dempster

    Tom Thumb is re-locating to have lots more room for stock car racing, circa the Davis St scene of the 1960s and early 1970s.  Tho' I may be projecting a bit of my own wistful wishes.

    And two mysteries (for me at least) surrounding the shopping mall at Dodge and Dempster: (1) why do sea gulls dig it?  You'd think they'd  be happier hanging on the gorgeous lakefront, but like clockwork I see them at that mall every single day.  Anyone know what that's about?  And (2) Just read recently that that corner used to be an extension of the commercial/manufacturing area that is now located due west of the shopping mall.  idea: since the mall isn't catching on, why not knock it down, and pull a "mini-Northbrook" or Glenview by going back to the original use of that land and attracting some wonderful manufacturers or distributors or wholesalers to the area? 

  6. Music venue sounds great!

    Thanks to the city council for getting this one right.  

      If the neighbors don't like the traffic/congestion, they should move.  Sort of like people who move next to NU student housing and complain about parties.    Didn't you realize this when you moved in?!  Glad city council didn't make their problems become the rest of our problems.  

    Perhaps city council  can stop funding more tax-payer funded exploratory studies into the varsity theater, since there will now be a theater in downtown?     

    1. Traffic/congestion?

      Would you please point out where in this discussion someone complained about "traffic/congestion," which you predict will be a "problem"? Also, would you explain why it would be a problem? Thanks.

    2. Neighborhood concerns

      There is a flaw in your logic when you compare the neighbors of the proposed theater and people who move next to existing student housing.  The neighbors of the theater have every right to be concerned with how the new theater will change their existing neighborhood.  

      Also why can't neighbors complain about loud, inconsiderate late night parties?  College students do not have the right to disrupt a neighborhood just because they want to. Even if the problem existed before they moved in, what is wrong with someone trying to better their neighborhood?  By your logic, someone couldn't  complain about crime if crime was being committed in the area before they moved in. 

      Getting back to the point,  I support the proposed theater but let's remember people who live by it have the right to be concerned how it will effect their neighborhood.


    3. Didn’t you realize this when

      Didn't you realize this when you moved in?!

      Yeah, years ago when I moved in it was a Tom Thumb, not a music venue…

  7. A boost to downtown Evanston

    How much of our income can we spend on entertainment?  Will the new venues slough off revenue from the Century Theatre?

    A music venue and a movie theater are not necessary drawing from the same audience.  There is some overlap, but Northwestern's concert halls and SPACE have proven that there is a market for quality music programming in Evanston.  I think it's more likely to attract customers for nearby restaurants and other businesses, perhaps at the expense of venues in Chicago. 

    I have to wonder how many people would attend concerts at this new venue who currently attend fewer concerts because they don't want to deal with a trip into the city.

    Existing parking and proximity to CTA, Pace and Metra should offer more than enough capacity to handle patrons of this new venue who aren't close enough to walk or ride their bikes.  I think this could be a significant boost to restaurant and retail businesses in downtown Evanston, just what we need right now.

  8. WHO is this theater for…

    WHO is this theater for… and why oh why does this space need a restaurant???  What … there aren't enough restaurants in Evanston for people to go to without  a new one being added.   I'm curious who is paying for this since so few Evanstonians will actually get the use of it.

    1. Curious

      And I'm curious why you ask?  What is your point or concern?

      Are you against new business in Evanston?

      What is wrong with another restaurant? 

      So few Evanstonian's will get to use it?  How?  Please elaborate?

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