Evanston’s Performing Arts Center Task Force got a look Monday night at a conceptual design for a possible new theater project on the southeast corner of Benson Avenue and Clark Street.

But the concept so far lacks the funding to make it a reality.

Second Baptist Church has a contract to purchase most of the planned 22,500 square foot site, and the developer working with the church, Zeb McLaurin of McLaurin Development Partners, says he’s in talks with St. James Armenian Church to acquire the rest of it.

Ben Kadish, managing partner of Evanston Benson LLC, the current owners of the corner property, said in an interview this morning that Second Baptist doesn’t have the money to purchase the building, and several of the tenants have leases with five or ten years left to run.

McLaurin responded that, “Everyone is sensitive to the status of current tenants.”

“Projects of this scope and scale take years to come to fruition,” he added, saying he “couldn’t put a definite time frame” on when the the project might actually be realized.

A diagram showing the proposed project site.

Members of the task force said they were pleased with the concept as presented by architect Timothy Poell of the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

Member Judy Kemp called it “very exciting,” adding, “You’re certainly thinking in the same kind of way we have been as a task force.”

And Jim Corirossi said, “The concept is very close to what we’ve talked about.”

Poell’s design calls for retail space on the first and second floors, with three floors above that used for theater and rehearsal space — including one auditorium holding about 300 people and another with a capcity of 100.

That section of the building would be topped at the sixth level with a roof garden and community room.

Above that would be a still-to-be-determined number of floors for some combination of office, hotel or residential use.

McLaurin indicated that while there would be some underground on-site parking, the plan envisioned having most theater-goers park in nearby city garages.

Paul Zalmezak of the city’s economic development staff said the project would be a planned development that would need City Council review. “Clearly the property is not zoned now for what’s being proposed tonight,” he added.

McLaurin said the base of the building — including the retail, theater and roof garden levels — could easily cost $50 million to $75 million.

Zalmezak said the the task force was charged when it was appointed over a year ago by the mayor with coming up with a concept that was feasible to do.

“Now we have a site that’s viable,” he said, “and we have a feasible design from a world-class architectural firm.”

“We need to work on the financial plan, but we can go to the City Council and say here’s what it could look like.”

The task force is scheduled to present its final report to City Council July 27 and plans to meet sometime next week to begin incorporating the concept presented Monday into that report.

Related story

Developer considers downtown theater concept (6/15/15)

Related document

Downtown Evanston Performing Arts Presentation (6/15/15)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. New Theater Concept

    The vastly underutilized (and unkempt) Shand-Monahan building on the north side of Church Street between Oak and Maple would seem a better choice for redevelopment to a theater and other uses than the suggested site.  It would improve the nighttime security of that area.  It would also not negatively impact the Armenian Church.or the plans of Second Baptist Church, both important parts of Evanston's diverse culture.   A theater there could be easily linked by a bridge to the Maple Street garage, would give a boost to the restaurants  on Davis and on Church Streets, west of the viaducts, and would not add to the congestion at Benson, Clark and the viaduct.

    1. Theater site

      Hi Joan,

      I'm confused.

      How would this "negatively impact" the plans of Second Baptist? It has the right to purchase the Benson property and is backing the theater proposal.

      If St. James turns out to be willing to sell, how does it negatively impact that church?

      The 1007 Church St. property you prefer was purchased last summer out of bankruptcy for $9.6 million by new owners who hope to fill the vacant offices there.

      It seems improbable that a three-story-tall space for a new theater could be carved out of the existing office building's configuration.

      If it can't, then you're suggesting that an eight-story building designed by a prominent architect should be demolished for the new theater instead of a one story retail structure.

      In any case, considering that 1007 Church St. is assessed at $4.2 million, while the Benson and Clark property is assessed at $616,000 … one could anticipate that it would cost a lot more to acquire.

      — Bill

  2. Drawing

    I do not understand the conceptual rendering, how such a view exists? The El track is on that side of the street, thus you would be much close to the building than shown in the rendering. That is you would be standing at the location of the car in the left hand corner.  The buildng facade would not be possible to be seen like this.  You would really only be able to see the first few floors of the building.

    1. The view

      Try exploring the area around the site starting with this Google Streetview image. I think you'll conclude that the tracks are not as close to the site as you assumed in your comment. There's now room for diagonal parking on both sides of the street.

      Also, as one of the task force members mentioned at the meeting, the view into the theater lobby area for riders on the elevated CTA trains could be pretty impressive.

      — Bill

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