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The long-running saga of the City of Evanston’s efforts to bring a theater company to Howard Street developed a new plot twist Monday when City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz announced that the group the city’s been negotiating with since last fall is no longer interested in the deal.

Bobkiewicz told aldermen that Strawdog Theatre Company officials have told him they’ve found other rehearsal and office space — and so don’t need the temporary lease they’d sought of the city’s former police outpost at 633 Howard St.

And they’re no longer interested, Bobkiewicz said, in working with the city on its plan to redevelop property at 717-729 Howard into a performance space.

Last month it was disclosed that the estimated cost of the theater project had roughly tripled again — this time to a minimum of $5.5 million.

In 2012 theater advocates had imagined they could create a theater in a Howard Street storefront for about $600,000. But by early 2013 that cost estimate had already nearly tripled to $1.7 million.

Strawdog, which is moving out of its Chicago home this month because the rented building is about to be demolished for a redevelopment project, plans to stage its upcoming 29th season at the Factory Theater on the Chicago side of Howard.

Last fall the company’s need for a new home, and its long-established artistic reputation, had led city officials to conclude it was the best prospect among six theater groups interested in the city-owned Howard Street site and the city chose to negotiate exclusively with Strawdog to try to move the Howard project forward.

Bobkiewicz said Strawdog is still intereested in possibly purchasing the Howard building from the city — but it was unclear Monday night whether the city will entertain a sale without having a redevelopment plan in place.

Fundamentally it appears the city and Strawdog were unable to reach agreement on who would pick up how much of the cost of the project.

Strawdog’s interest in the outpost site had derailed efforts by owners of the Good to Go Jamaican restaurant to move into that building from their current location on the Chicago side of Howard. That issue now appears headed back to the city’s Economic Development Committee.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. Sounds like another arts
    Sounds like another arts group has cost the city and taxpayers a lot of money. Although this was a lot less than the millions the Evanston Arts Council took the city for, it still follows a dreadful trend of the city spending good money on fail schemes.

    1. In response to skipw
      Hi Skip.

      Just wanted to clarify — I believe you mistakenly refer to the Evanston Arts Council above. The Evanston Arts Council is a citizen group appointed by the mayor to promote, advocate for and advise on policy regarding the arts in Evanston. They do not have a facility. They meet monthly at the Civic Center, and their total yearly budget is well under $50,000, most of which is re-granted to the community, and a portion of which is funded by grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

      Hope this helps.

      Respectfully,
      -Jennifer Lasik
      Cultural Arts Coordinator

      1. Sorry

        I was referring to the Evanston Arts Center. They are the ones who occupied the mansion for about 40 years for $ 1.00 per. They rented out the facility for 10's of thousands but they never had money to maintain the mansion and let the interior fall into a dump. They got the city to pay thousands to finance the move out and pay for the inspection fee on their new building. They claimed to be cash poor but they were able to raise 2M in 6 months

        They were a leach on Evanston and got away with it because the mayor(s) and council let them do it for 40 years.

        Sorry again for misidentifying the group. 

  2. Hype Train
    Sometimes I’m skeptical of criticism that the council picks pet projects, but after seeing statements from Ann in the past few weeks that it was absolutely *critical* to get a space for this theater venue, I begin to wonder. In hindsight it seems like we’re being sold Ann’s ideas.

    1. We are buying
      You (we) are not being “sold” Ann’s ideas, you (we) are “buying” her ideas. Let the buyer beware!

  3. $5.5 million?

    As one of the producing theatre companies that submitted a proposal, it seems absolutely ridiculous that a project like this would come anywhere close to a budget of $5.5 million. Our company specializes on producing extremely high quality productions on a shoe-string budget so looking at construction of a small space and build out into a nice theatre  with a price tag of $5.5 million, I can see why they are having problems and people in Evanston take issue with this. Where is all that money going? One word of advise- SIMPLIFY.

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