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Piven deal would cost taxpayers millions

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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.

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Related documents

Piven Noyes term sheet

Noyes floor plans and architectural drawings

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