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City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says he’ll update the Human Services Committee tonight on plans to give Piven Theatre a larger role at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

But he says that despite talks “over the better part of a year,” no final proposal has been developed to bring forward to the City Council.

Bobkiewicz says the general concept is to have Piven renovate a portion of the space in Noyes in return for a long-term lease from the city.

Piven wants to expand its footprint in the building and city officials have concluded that the existing short-term arrangements with Piven and a variety of other arts groups that use the building have not generated enough revenue to cover both the cost of operating the space and needed capital improvements.

Julie Phelan, who lives near the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, launched a website last week complaining about what she sees as a lack of transparency in negotiations about the future of the arts center.

Phelan, who formerly worked as an artist, but is not a tenant at the center, says she’s concerned in part because she’s heard that summer youth arts camps which have been run from the center are going to have to find a new location this year. And she says she’s concerned about safety issues at some other city recreation sites.


Update 9:20 a.m. 2/5/13: Bobkiewicz told aldermen Monday night that there are no plans to displace the arts camps from Noyes this summer, noting that they are among the city’s most popular summer camp offerings. He said where they would be held in future years hasn’t been determined yet.


“Some in the community feel that any change to the existing arrangement is not a good thing,” Bobkiewicz said, but he said aldermen see the Noyes Center as “an untapped resource that can blossom with further investment.”

It’s a potential economic development tool for the community, Bobkiewicz says, a place where more people from all over could go and enjoy the visual and performing arts.

He said he met with members of the tenants association at Noyes on Jan. 7 for about 90 minutes “and fielded questions until they no longer had any.”

He noted that the City Council last week approved new leases for the current tenants at Noyes — including the multi-year leases that some of the tenants had requested. Previously all the tenants had been on one-year leases.

Bobkiewicz says the Piven proposal “is not an insignificant project” — with cost figures in the range of $2 million to $5 million.

He says the funding would come from some combination of immediate and long-term fundraising by Piven, coupled with a loan from the city that would be repaid over time.

The City Council last month rejected plans to turn a city-owned storefront on Howard Street into a new home for Chicago’s City Lit Theatre, after renovation cost estimates for the project nearly tripled to $1.7 million.

Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the Howard Street site, has vowed to bring a revised version of that project back to the council.

The City Council last week received a study funded by a federal grant that proposed creating three new performing arts venues in downtown Evanston, but it drew criticism from Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl for offering little in the way of explanation for how the estimated $130 million cost of the new spaces might be paid for.

Bobkiewicz said he’s pledged to the tenants association at Noyes that they’ll have a couple of weeks to look at any proposed final agreement with Piven before it is presented to the Human Services Committee.

He said that while the talks with Piven are progressing, he’s not sure whether an agreement will be reached in time for the committee’s March meeting, but that he will meet with Piven board members later this week to try to wrap it up.

“I’m very mindful of the space issues,” Bobkiewicz said, adding that he’s committed to trying to avoid displacing any of the existing Noyes tenants.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Piven and finance

    Having FOIA'ed Piven's 501c3 from 2005-2012 they were either in the red or close to it. How do they (or Wally) really expect to cover maintenance or improvements on Noyes when the city can hardly afford it? What is to happen to the Arts Camps that are a cultural pearl for the children of Evanston? Will Evanston taxpayers benefit from the free ride that Piven is to get? Will we get free classes or tickets? What does Wally and Piven have to say about this?

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  2. Noyes School

    I guess I miss the days when Noyes was a public school. I graduated Noyes School in 1974. It was a great place to go to school. The environment and the faculty were superb. Must have to been tough to be a grade school principal named Dr. Virgil Nutt.

  3. No funds to the building

    Although the Arts Camps of Evanston are great and popular, they do nothing  in way of of bringing funds into the building. All the revenue from camps go to city funds and not back into the building. Meanwhile the city keeps many studios open  for months on end so arts camp can use them. I think there is a way that The Noyes Center could be self sustainable, but not the way it is currently run. For many years the camps were held in district 65 schools.If they are put back into the schools the revenue could help the city, and funds from space rental at Noyes could go towards making The Noyes Center self sustainable. Also allowing it to house various and diverse programming the city may not currently offer.

    1. No funds?

      If Piven proposal goes through there will be no "studios open for months on end" PERIOD (so dont you worry).

      Those spaces, which from what I learned, is a whole 2 rooms, will be used to house 4 tenants being displaced by this proposal (that should be interesting).

      All the extra space will be in Piven's hands to sublet at their leisure.  Tell me, do you think that revenue is going to go back into Noyes building?

      I disagree with your statement that Arts Camp's do nothing in the way of bringing funds into Noyes.  Think about how many children (including my own) begin their childhood summers with Arts Camp and grow into programs such as the Circus Arts, Choir, Spoken Word/Poetry, Textiles, Theatre and Voice Lessons.

      Have you looked at the 2013 Summer Camp Program Guide?  Arts Camp's provide an experience like nothing else in Evanston, private or public.  Arts Camp  belongs in the Cultural Arts Center just like Ice Skating belongs at RC.

      I have no problem with Piven Theatre Workshop wanting to grow.  My beliefe is that they should do so organically… using their existing business.  They should apply for a loan from the bank just like any other small business.  What happened to living within our means?  Piven is no better than any other Theatre Performance group/school in Evanston and shouldn't be treated as such.

    2. Piven and gifts from the city

      It is beyond being ridiculous that the city would loan $2.2 million at 2% interest and then a $1 lease if Piven can raise $355,000.

      Is the city willing to use city property for businesses, esp. start-ups and tech., and lease it for $1 a year ?   These actually produce jobs and revenue—not subsidies to a few people who want the city to fund them so they can go out and find they can't find jobs with the 'skills' they learn and then depend on more welfare to support them when they are bagging groceries.

      Once again the city wants to pick and choose and pander to certain groups of 'arts' experts, or those who think they are the guardians of culture.

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