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Panel hopes matrix will help downtown arts plans

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The mayor's downtown arts task force agreed Thursday night to try to develop a matrix of financing and tenant options for a potential new downtown performing arts space.

Michael Corr, senior vice president for commercial banking at First Bank & Trust and the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, said, "There's a lot of chicken and egg going on here."

"If we build a big space that's too big, there may be no organizations that can fill it," Corr said.

Paul Fitzpatrick, a marketing and video production company owner, said the group needs to come up with a clear concept of "the cake we want to bake" to get people on board with the plans.

The group also referred to two recent studies that dealt with the potential for a performing arts space downtown — EvansARTs report released this week and the Downtown Performing Arts Study completed in 2012.

Judy Kemp of the Evanston Community Foundation said there are "all kinds of creative financial models" that might be considered and suggested the panel needed to get some experts to talk about the options.

Penny Rotheiser of the Evanston Arts Council's Arts and Business Committee suggested that in addition to talking to leaders of other communities where downtown arts projects have worked, the gorup needed to "talk to a few that didn't work, and find out what went wrong."

Paul Zalmezak of the city's economic development staff cautioned that the group needed to be clear on its mission.

"I work for the city, and the city has to be fair to everyone," Zalmezak said, "Right now it feels like we are backing into something with the approach we are taking."

"Who judges who should be part of a new center?" Zalmezak asked. And once a decision is made, "will the rest of the groups come out with torches and say 'we can raise money too'" and should have been included?

The city's cultural arts coordinator, Jennifer Lasik, suggested the matrix approach.

Reviewing the options that way, she suggested, it eventually should become clear which path is the right one.

"Once we find a path we think is the right one we can start moving on that path," Lasik said. "If we hit a wall, then it wil lbe time to make a turn or go on to the next option."

Only five of the nine or ten committee members turned out for the meeting at the Civic Center. It was the panel's second session, and its first in over a month.

The group agreed to try to step up its pace by scheduling meetings every couple of weeks — most likely on Thursday evenings.

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