Evanston’s Economic Development Committee discussed three proposals Wednesday night for use of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding — including a $2 million request from Northlight Theatre.

Northlight Executive Director Tim Evans told the committee the theater has raised more than half of the $25 million required to construct the new theater at 1012-1016 Church St., and the $2 million in grant funding from the city would help bring the pandemic-delayed project to a successful conclusion.

Evans said the new theater would bring an estimated $425,000 in city tax revenue over its first five years of operation and generate an estimated $55 million in new spending in town by people attending theater performances.

He said the theater can qualify for funding under the federal program as a non-profit organization and part of an industry that was disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In addition he says educational programs operated by the theater directly impact the social, emotional and mental health of local students.

The project was granted zoning approval by the City Council in 2019, but the theater has not yet closed on purchase of the Church Street property because of pandemic-related delays.

Northlight was founded in Evanston in 1974 but has operated in Skokie since 1998.

A startup business, Whole and Free Foods is, seeking $1.97 million in public funds to acquire a property at 1611 Church St. and build what’s described as a “state of the art mixed-use building to house its headquarters and a shared commercial kitchen where it would produce its “Every Body Eat” line of allergen-free snack foods.

Most of the public funding for this project, $1.6 million, is proposed to come from the tax increment financing district that includes the Church Street site, with the rest from the federal ARPA program.

And 37 Oaks Consulting is seeking American Rescue Plan Act funding to launch a retail incubator program that would cultivate small businesses in Evanston. Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said the staff is seeking $170,000 to launch the program this year and that the ongoing cost would be about $400,000 a year. He suggested that money would come in part from the ARPA program with the rest coming from city economic development funds.

The committee chair, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd), said of the Northlight proposal, “This is a really exciting project, all of us have been looking for Northlight to come back to Evanston.”

But Ald. Devon Reid (8th) questioned what the city’s investment in the project would be over the long term. He suggested that if the project were scaled down, then the private market could manage the cost.

Wynne said of the 1611 Church St. project “clearly we will need a lot more time to discuss this in much more detail. But member Lisa Dziekan called the proposal “really compelling” and said she looked forward to learning more about it.

Reid said the retail incubator proposal was “a wonderful presentation.” Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) suggested the project should be integrated with business incubator programs at Northwestern University. He said such programs now seem to be “disconnected and detached” and should share ideas.

The committee took no action on any of the proposals Wednesday. It’s expected to make recommendations to the City Council about the proposals at a future meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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