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Evanston aldermen next week will consider plans to provide a multi-million dollar subsidy to the Piven Theatre Workshop.

The package includes free rent on greatly expanded space at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center as well as a $2.2 million low-interest loan to fund renovations.

A deal term sheet published by the city says Piven will pay rent of $1 a year for a lease term that could run as long as a half century.

Under the plan Piven would more than double its space at Noyes to a total of 11,000 square feet.

At current rent rates charged other tenants at Noyes for similar space, the free rent deal would cost taxpayers nearly $13 million over 50 years, assuming 2 percent annual rent rate increases.

Top: The Noyes Center. Above: The main entrance to Piven’s current space at Noyes.

In a phone interview Tuesday, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that, despite the phrasing of the term sheet, it wasn’t his intent to actually provide free rent for 50 years, but he was unable to specify how long he did intend the free rent agreement to last.

In return for the city aid, Piven would raise at least $355,000 in cash plus pro-bono contributions of professional services that combined with the cash would total $1.6 million to help fund the building renovation, according to the latest version of the term sheet.

Starting in 2024 Piven would also pay $6,624.97 a year as a contribution toward a capital maintenance fund for the Noyes building.

Architectural drawings included in the proposal show a greatly expanded lobby entrance for the theater space, removal of the second-story floor over the existing theater to create more headroom and expanded dressing room and office space.

A call Tuesday morning to Piven Executive Director Leslie Brown seeking more information about the proposal was not immediately returned.

In an interview last month, Brown said the new arrangement would let Piven rent out its space to other theater groups to increase the number of performances at the theater and would let it apply for a liquor license that could generate additional revenue for its programs.

She’s also said that Piven needs a long-term lease with the city to be able to do effective fundraising. Until this year, all the tenants at Noyes were on one-year leases.

Bobkiewicz said the city has received a state grant to cover much of the cost of repairing the roof at Noyes — the most critical capital improvement need, which sparked the debate over what to do with the building that has now led to the Piven proposal.

Scaffolding protects Noyes visitors from debris falling from the roof while the building awaits roof repairs.

He said he will soon ask City Council to reallocate other city funds to pay for the rest of the roof repair project, which he expects will start within a couple of months and be completed later this year.

The city manager said that after Piven came up with the idea of doing a major expansion project on the building, the focus shifted from just making the center self-sustaining to more of an economic development model.

He said a stronger Piven program could attract more people to neighborhood on a much more regular basis and that the increase in visitors would lead to more tax revenue for the city from restaurant meals and other activities.

The Piven plan is scheduled to go before the City Council’s Human Services Committee during a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Ahead of the meeting Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said that from what he’s seen so far the Piven deal “doesn’t add up for me.”

“If we’re going to front the money” — the $2.2 million loan — “why not just cover that cost ourselves and pay it back through rent?” he asked.

Related stories

Piven sees ‘more dynamic’ Noyes Center

Piven plans for Noyes draw complaints

Children’s choir gets reprieve

Related documents

Piven Noyes term sheet

Noyes floor plans and architectural drawings

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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25 Comments

  1. Taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize private businesses or groups

    I'm not sure what city manager Wally Bobkiewicz is smoking or how he thinks pouring out hundreds of thousand if not millions of Evanston's taxpayers dollars is a good business or cultural decision.

    How can he think that these decisions will beneifit anyone other than the organizations or businesses that are getting these free handouts.

    Piven, while a respected theater has not been running in the black for the past seven years, they have recently been trying to take over Noyes Cultural Center, almost evicting The Evanston Childrens Choir and getting rid of many of the arts tenants and cultural city camps that have served Evanston residents and their children for the past decade or longer.

    The camps that have been housed Noyes are scheduled to move to an undisclosed location. Pouring millions into the development of Howard street on the taxpayers wallet. Perhaps Piven should explore the idea of moving to Howard Street or the underutilized mall on the Dodge-Dempster intersection where parking is plentiful and free.

    Wally is trying to polish his reputation but not going below the surface, to where the residents of Evanston really need and are counting on.

  2. Don’t we already …

    Don't we have enough NU theater and communications people bagging groceries?

    The Council seems to want to take taxpayer money and give it to their favorite pseudo-intellectuals [i.e. the artsy crowd].

    Let these groups pay their way and let the public decide on how much of the theater they want by paying for it by admission charges — not forcing the taxpayers who have much more realistic needs fund them — in what they hope will be jobs.

    How about real and realistic job training for ETHS students and the unemployed who actually need it?

     

  3. Disgusting

    Once again the City of Evanston is spending our hard earned tax dollars for the good of economic development. Gimme a break!

    How does spending millons to renovate/expand the Piven Theater help the average taxpayer who struggles to pay exorbitant property taxes?

    Restaurants may benefit, Ward Eight and the other watering hole on Howard St., being paid for in part by our tax dollars, may benefit, but how do I and other Evanston taxpayers benefit from giving charity to these entities?

    Down the road, someday, maybe this deal will result in an economic boost, really?

  4. A $2 million “loan” that costs $13 million?

    I don't understand the logic here. If I needed to refinance my house and asked for a loan no bank would EVER approve this kind of financing – they loan me money while they themselves LOSE over 6X what they've given me?

    As an alternative if paying tenants are kept and Piven's amount of space kept closer to what they have now the City might just EARN millions over the next 50 years (in addition to paying Noyes Center maintenance costs) and manage to keep the artistic diversity and community and public service that the Center was founded for. 

    I believe money toward the arts in Evanston is important, but question this commitment to only one organization when so many other deserving organziations are paying their own way. And why would we even consider such a questionable financial arrangement?

  5. Why a theater?

    The Piven reputation is completely based on their educational programs and yet, according to the online architectural plans, they are taking over a lot of Noyes' space to build a fairly substantial theater.  WHY?  If they want to expand or upgrade their classrooms that seems logical and like it certainly wouldn't cost the city millions of dollars.  But why would they suddenly need to take over a third of the Noyes Center, displacing so many artists, when their current theater seems more than adequate?  They haven't offered a full season of shows for a decade, averaging two a year.  And even those shows aren't exactly selling out their little theater and extending their runs due to popular demand.  Does Piven plan to suddenly quadruple their theater productions to fill a brand new theater 50 weeks a year?  Where is that audience going to come from?  It takes years to build that kind of following and a clear artistic vision.  So far all they produced in the last two and a half years (according to their website) is a two-week production of an old Neil Simon play.  That's not exactly the kind of production legacy that Evanston taxpayers should throw a couple million dollars at supporting.

    What's more likely is that they plan for the Evanston taxpayers to build them a theater which they then rent out in order to make money off of a sweatheart city loan.  Let the Pivens continue to do what they have a solid track-record of doing – teaching theater to kids. The real travesty would be for millions of taxpayer dollars to go towards building a theater which then winds up being rented out to try to cover the loan it was built with. Taxpayers should certainly not pay for someone to become a theater landlord yet Piven has neither the history nor the following to warrent building a multi-million dollar new theater at the cost of taxpayers.

  6. Piven deal

    I'm sick of city aldermen cherry picking businesses to subsidize.  It's ego on their part with little thought of long term consequences.  I tried to run a business in Evanston, but I was overtrodden by the 4th Ward alderman who favored the neighbor business which took over my space.  My appeals to the city council fell on deaf ears.   I've concluded, with such poor returns from city council tampering, just let the markerplace run itself.  Yet,  Andersonville has a merchant association with a winning strategic economic strategy.

  7. Residents Pay for Piven’s Vitalization at Noyes Cultural Center?

    THEN: Wouldn't it have been nice to have had the live theater space proposed by numerous Evanston residents in original discussions of Maple Avenue and Church Street development decades ago (when City Council was dreaming about "activating plazas" with numerous real estate developers)? Does anyone remember the 1985 – 2009 Downtown II TIF and long nights looking at lovely architectural renderings in the late 1980s and early 1990s? Why couldn't that successful development encompassed all of the needs of the arts community that were originally proposed in blueprints and drawings THEN?

    NOW: City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has to negotiate (at all cost) to keep Piven from moving out of Evanston on request of Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. "What Lola wants, Lola gets". Piven's desire to turn their financial challenges and need for space into an "economic development model" rather than a self-sustaining cultural center provides the impression they do have a dramatic way with words. I am confident their desire to serve wine during intermission will really get the whole thing moving along. I hope Piven remembers to consult Northwestern's football schedule in their annual planning along with dates for Freshman orientation, pledge week in late winter, Spring flings and Dillo day so the neighborhood doesn't inhibit students, actors, and audience alike from arriving on time or turning away. The Noyes and Maple Avenue area gets a bit crowded, loud, fluid, earthy, and organic.

    Why would Evanston residents have to contribute dollars for Piven's take over of the Noyes Cultural Center when there are so many more important priorities in these challenging economic (city budget troubled) times is a real puzzle. Wally had to begin the City's 2013 budget discussions weeks earlier than normal because of the necessary cuts. It is time to focus on what really matters to the city and its residents with solutions that have long term vision and real economic value using the existing assets and resources it has wisely. Maybe with a bit more creative thinking the Civic Center could be turned into one large self-sustaining Arts and Cultural Center with reasonably priced visual artist studios (including those from the Evanston Arts Center), arts camp, an added live theater space and music hall with adequate parking . . . and the city management could downsize to the Noyes Cultural Center building with a new roof. City owns and manages an adequately sized all encompasing Arts and Cultural Center and city hall moves one block to more efficient space.

  8. I don’t care how much we all

    I don't care how much we all love the so called "diversity" of Evanston. The price to live here is too high. The city goverment is misled, the schools are underacheieving on every level, our taxes are going up yet we are broke when the budget comes up for review.

    A couple years ago the libraries and the community center were on the chopping block, and now it will be the plight of Piven and the Noyes tenants. Oh and don't forget about the Evanston Art Center, also in a state of disrepair and up for sale. Enough already. 

    There will be a sign in my front yard soon that says it all.  FOR SALE. The rest of you can sit back and question why you let your hard-earned money support institutional racism in our schools, a misdirected city council, a mayor with an agenda and a crummy number cruncher for a city manager. Good Lord.

    Oh and don't forget to lock your doors becasue the crime rate is getting higher too.  Now that's what I call quality of life.

  9. No!

    How many times here in Evanston do we, the taxpayers, have to front the money for each theatre, mime troupe, art gallery or arts workshop, gallery renovation, etc.?

    Is it not enough that we have a church on every corner (no property taxes), a University that is the single largest land holder (no property taxes) and two hospitals (no property taxes)!

    What about all the boarded up storefronts in downtown Evanston – what is being done to encourage FOR PROFIT (a bad thing to Liberals) businesses to open here?

    If Piven wants money for the rehab work, then they should raise the funds themselves, like other non-profits do among their patrons and the public in the form of charitble donations.  

    Ever heard of a Capital Campaign?

    But no, it is far easier for these free-loaders to "partner" with the city to acquire these funds, which ultimately falls on the backs of the taxpayers.  Example – $1.00 rent/month?  Are you kidding me!

    All in the name of diversity and culture.  A feel good warm touchy feeling we all need to support with our checkbooks.  

    As such, raise your own damn money.  

    NO to Piven!

  10. Not fair

    I'm a resident artist at the Noyes Cultural Center. I have been renting a studio there for the past four years. What bothers me the most about Piven's plan is that they have not been required to pay rent for some time. If I do not pay my rent, I have to pay late fees.

    Basically, the special treatment that Piven is getting is not fair to the rest of the artists in the building. Furthermore, since my basement studio is directly below Piven's space, I must face the reality that dust, noise, and debris will impact my work space.

    Since the Noyes building is already over 100 years old, I deal with Piven's noise and dust on a daily basis. There has been a history of asbestos detected in the building as well. The Piven expansion will be hazardous to my health and well-being.

    Piven's growth will have serious implications that will affect all of the other artists who occupy the cultural center. Aside from relocation and loss of space, there are health concerns. Some of the residents have resided in the building for over 25 years. My question is why they aren't getting special treatment? Why do the rest of us have to pay rent if Piven is exempt?

  11. Why are we kicking out paying artists?

    Why are we kicking out paying artist-tenants to allow Piven free rent and a loan? Before, the city was complaining that Noyes wasn't self-sustaining enough. Now they have changed their tune and are willing to help Piven on the backs of the taxpayers? Not fair.

  12. Piven is expecting taxpayers

    Piven is expecting taxpayers to pay them $2.2 million and go $13 million dollars in debt to turn Noyes Cultural Art Center into a bar and rent out publicly owned property while paying zero rent themselves. 

  13. Compare Piven deal to better Music Institute deal?

    I think an interesting contrast to this Piven proposal is what is happening with the Music Institute moving to Evanston…I read they are taking over an underutilized space in downtown, building a black box theater (and two rehearsal rooms, and office space for 34) that will all likely bring in money to the City due to increased traffic to the area – all for $800,000 (quite less than 2.2 million).

    And most of their money, the vast majority, is NOT coming from the City but raised themselves. Seems more like a win-win (City and organization) to me than the Piven deal, where I think only Piven wins.

  14. Attend Human Services Meetings

    The Piven proposal is expected to be presented at the May 6 and June 3 Human Services Committee Meetings. Please attend to express your views on these issues directly to the committee members. This is a huge decision on a publicly held building and deserves plenty of discussion and deliberation. Thank you.

  15. Hop OFF the bandwagon

    It sort of seems like every comment on here is a response to the opinions of the comment preceding it rather than the facts. I get it, it is often easier to just be enraged, Anonymous commenter, Anonymous commenter, and also you, Anonymous commenter. But has anyone actually read the agreement? My understanding is that Piven is not only investing $1.6 million into the betterment of the building, (and thus, the community) but also is to pay back the entirety of the $2.2 million loan PLUS interest. Sounds like they will be doing quite a bit of fundraising in fact! And again, the improvements will benefit the building as a whole, not just Piven. Not even going to touch the "taxpayers to pay them $2.2 million to turn Noyes Cultural Art Center into a bar" comment. That is just ludicrous. 

    All due respect to you Roger, especially since you have maturity and substance to not post facelessly, but to claim their current space is "adequate" indicates you have probably never been in it. Their staff is stacked on top of each other like pancakes in an office the size of a walk-in closet while they manage the operations of 2 to 3 constantly overbooked classrooms and one 70-seat theatre. (And ya know, nurturing the creative and intellectual development of your children) They do exceptionally well for what they have to work with. Steppenwolf would not be Steppenwolf without their means and space, Goodman would not be Goodman.

    I took classes at Piven as a child and as an adult. You can't throw a stone without hitting someone in this community who has at least taken a class or seen a show there either. I wouldn't be the person I am now without Piven. After 40 years, you'd think they get an operational facility they deserve (and are paying for!) 

    Anyway, take the time to read the actual agreement, it may ease your concerns! (It would appear you all seem to have time on your hands)

    1. Go to Human Services and be the lone speaker in favor of this!

      Frankly – Evanstonnow has read the agreement, and reported on it here, it is another losing Wally deal, just like the Wine and Cheese Bar and Peckish One.  Wally's crack staff, let the other theater deal go out of control, the lit theater went from $600,000 to over 1.7million.  Guess what Wally run up to the podium and claimed he would find another tenant.  You claim that the city has done a finanical analysis, give me a break, city staff did not even add up the numbers in the Peckish one proposal correctly, by the way you can go read that.

      I think let Ann Rainey give the Piven Theater one of her buildings on Howard with None of our tax dollars for upgrades and let the Piven Theater move to Howard Street.

      When the recent director of Economic developement left the city he thanked the council for not going after him on all the screws up his department maded. I had to laugh.     I remember Wally saying not too long ago we should not be borrowing more capital since our capital debt was too high. Now Wally would take 2.2 million in capital and give it away to the Piven Theater.  Wally clearly is out of control.     Better yet Wally claims City buildings are falling apart and he wants to have money for their maintenance.  His free rent deal and asking for $6,000 for maintenance a year is a joke.  How about Wally comes up with the real rent at Noyes, does any one think his staff can do that work?  That is figure out the true cost of maintenance.    As far as figuring out Piven's 1.6 million this is a joke, lets see the cash not in kind items, sounds like the useless Wine and Cheese bar were the tenants used free city money to act as collateral for their loan on top of the apartment above the bar the city provided them.                                                                                                                                                                                                   Lets face it  the Piven deal is a mess, but wait a bigger mess is coming, Wally is planning to sell land at Lighthouse beach for a hotel and parking garage, that's whats he been discussing in illegal closed door meetings.

    2. A huge loss for taxpayers

      Robin, that's 1.6 million in "in kind" contributions to the building, ie. trumped-up, overpriced architectural plans for their buildout.  And yes, they pay back the 2.2 million at a 2% interest rate over 50 years.  Whoop-dee-doo!  They will be paying less and putting less money into the building than they do now!  AND their community service (part of the current low rent deal all tenants have) will remain the same even thought Piven gets over twice their current space!  This is a horribly Evanston losing proposition.

      And yes, they need some more office space but my argument was why do they need more THEATER space?  They hardly ever produce a show and even then those shows are mediocre at best and far from selling out their limited runs in a 70 seat theater.  Let them take over an extra classroom or two and some more office space – I'm sure they can raise the money to do that without the need for taxpayers' money – but for heaven's sake don't kick artists out of the buiding so Piven can have a state-of-the-art theater for an endeavor they hardly even pursue now. 

      I'm sure Piven would just love to be a real theater company with productions in a shiny new theater, but they have no track-record for this for over a decade.  And even then, most of their historical productions have a Piven attached to them.  Look at their website.  Their periodic stints into producing theater were vanity projects.

  16. Everyone loses here

    After the smoke clears, the community will ultimately lose out on the offerings of all tenants, but Piven. It's not like there's a theatre next door! The displaced tenants will scatter and find new  locations and the lone Piven will no longer benefit from the automatic visibility they so enjoyed from the economies of scope that the current arrangement offers. Having been to the Noyes center for a number of performances, I can't entirely recall whether they were Piven or otherwise. I suspect I am not alone and Piven will realize this only after everyone has invested in these changes that they have to work harder to attract the same level of patronage.  

    Great idea…ha!

  17. Good money after bad…

    Please don't throw good money after bad.  Sometimes things just come to a natural end no matter the reason. Evanston taxpayers should not have to fund the Piven Theater – there are WAY more important things to fund such as roads, pensions, parks, sanitation and aging infrastructure.  If we had a budget surplus it would be different, but we don't. 

  18. Does anyone remember voting for Mayor Wally Bobkiewcz?

    How does this guy get so much power over our tax dollars?  Where is the mayor and the nine alderpersons on this issue?

    1. Who?

      The City Council told the city manager to try to work out a deal with Piven for Noyes. They'll get to decide, starting May 6, whether the deal he came up with is one they're willing to approve. And they're the ones who will, or won't commit our tax dollars to the project.

      — Bill

    2. The proposal seems like it

      The proposal seems like it was totally railroaded. Unless the Alderpeople do their homework, we as taxpayers are going to get SCREWED

  19. Send Piven to Ann Rainey’s

    Send Piven to Ann Rainey's debacle on Howard Street.  And don't many theater companies have their own Friends-Of groups of supporters that get involved in fund raising for them?

    City Lit wanted a free ride, too, and didn't the city entertain that notion until costs and absence of ticket-buying supporters came to light?  If the economic development team needs something to do, put them to work on the west side until they can get that revived.

  20. Stop the fiscal stupidity!

    Just why are we even considering helping fund Piven's renovation of Noyes Cultural Center?

    Just what is the city's return on investment for funding such a small group and its members, many of whom don't even live in Evanston?

    Just what is the city getting in return for it's investment? A connection to the "Piven" name? Sorry…not worth the investment! Given Evanston's ongoing budget dilemnas, not only is this just a plain bad idea, it makes absolutely no fiscal/economic sense.

    If Piven needs funding, I suggest they go directly to many of the famous and now well-to-do alumni for financial support.

    Finally, if this does pass, and the city even thinks about taking away any of the green space in Noyes/Talmadge Park, they will have a major battle on their hands.

    Enough with this fiscal stupidity! Let Piven move to Chicago or somewhere else.

  21. Piven and the Noyes Center

    As both an Evanston visual artist and a costumer for an Evanston children's theater company, I know from experience how difficult it is to find arts spaces within Evanston.  There really is no other space but Noyes for indivudal artists to roost and do their work.  It would be a shame to see this already minimal space disappear.  It would be even more shameful to have Piven take all this space at the taxpayers expense, and then be able to rent their free space out to other performers.  

    I've got nothing against Piven; my son has taken many classes there, and it was a great experience for him.  But there are many, many other very deserving artists based in Evanston who need the support, too.  We all need to figure rent into our budgets.  It's time Piven joins the read world instead of being treated as the only batch of deserving artists in the whole community.

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