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The final report from the consultant studying the potential for developing a downtown Evanston performing arts center suggests the former Giordano’s dance studio as the most promising location.

The report adds that while the Varsity Theatre building might become the home for one or two theater groups, the desire of the building owner to maintain its first floor retail uses makes it inadequate as the primary site for arts activity downtown.

The report by consultant Kennedy Smith is part of a $50,000 city-funded effort led by Downtown Evanston to explore reuse of the Varsity and the potential for other arts development downtown.

The final report’s conclusion represents a shift from a preliminary report presented in May that was more optimistic about the Varsity site.

Top: The Giordano’s building on Davis Street. Above: The Varsity Theatre building on Sherman Avenue. (File photos.)

Further research, the report says, revealed that because of the space restrictions at the Varsity, much of the remaining ornamental plasterwork and other detailing would likely have to be removed to convert it from its former movie-house role to a setting for staged theatrical productions.

That, in turn, would likely mean the project couldn’t qualify for historic preservation tax credits that would be a key to funding it.

The report says the Giordano’s building could more easily qualify for the tax credits and, because it is located in a tax increement financing district, could also use that as a funding source.

The report also discusses the use of the former Border’s book store at 1629 Orrington Ave., a vacant lot at 605 Davis Street, a building at 1012-1016 Church Street and the downtown post office as other possible arts center venues.

The report says Evanston already is a substantial producer of theater performances for the region — generating, according to U.S. government statistics about nine times as much theater revenue as its own residents spend on performing arts and film entertainment.

About two-thirds of the estimated $43.6 million in revenue comes from taxable entities — primarily the Century Theatre complex — with the rest from tax-exempt theater groups.

The report says that in addition to several theater groups housed at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center that could expand into larger quarters, at least two other theater groups in the region — the Northlight theater in Skokie and the Glass Onion Theatre in Chicago — would like to move to Evanston.

The report offers a list of 16 recommendations, including:

  • Moving the city’s Cultural Arts Division from the Parks and Recreation Department to the Community and Economic Development Department and making the arts a core component of the city’s economic development agenda.
  • Making downtown the center of arts activity in the city.
  • Creating a strategic plan for developing performing arts facilities downtown and a development corporation to oversee the process.
  • Establishing a national register historic district downtown so projects could more easily qualify for historic rehabilitation tax credits.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Why is the post office

    Why is the post office building mentioned in this piece? Is the Postal service planning to abandon downtown Evanston?

    1. Post office

      The post office is mentioned because the report discusses it.

      If you'd like the details, you can find them on page 17 of the report.

      The short answer is that, no, the postal service has no plans to move. But given declining mail volume, some folks think it could become available in the future.

  2. Post office

    While true the Post Office has no current plans to move they did discuss closing the majority of the facility and moving out about 12 years ago, just keeping the customer counter open, they even announced it to their staff, though obviously nothing happened.

    Still, most of the work that used to happen there has been consolidated and moved out to the Mount Prospect facility. 

    Considering the USPS is bankrupt and going through massive restructuring, thinking of future adaptive reuse sounds prudent.  I'm sure they will always have a customer service outlet downtown.     

  3. The Giordano space is likely

    The Giordano space is likely too small for the planned use, since the overall square footage is divided up over three floors.  Furthermore, the space is blocked in and no additional expansion could be undertaken.  1012-1016 Church Street is likewise ill suited to the purposes of a performing arts complex.

    The Post Office would offer an impresive space for the arts and would provide a much needed anchor for west Downtown Evanston.  The former Borders complex offers significantly more space for expansion.

    The former Borders location on Orrington would place it near hotel, the Library and public parking.  It also offers additional adequate existing floorspace space for what would doubtless be eventual expansion of space offered to entities and room for expansion.

    Another former Borders at Clark and Maple could likewise be converted into an arts complex or annex, given it s proximity to transit, parking and downtown.

    Space is also available on south Chicago Ave. at former car dealerships.

    1. No more

      Until the city can get their budget inline with reality and the pension costs/benefits taken care of, we can't afford any more 'art' buildings, sculptures, exhibits, etc. as much as some want them.  The city budget and other problems will probably lead quickly to the closing of the Noyes Center and others and I assume the library hours will be cut before long—see recent news in California where they propose closing the libraries in certain towns, completely,

      I assume someone will say that some of these are/will be privately funded.  When have all expenses been privately covered.  The citizens always wind-up paying.  Those who want to donate, should be told to contribute to the city budget and pensions instead.

      We have real problems and yet we get these proposals to put out more chairs on the Titanic !   The state may not [be able] to go into bankruptcy but cities can and the Council and some residents seem to be trying to push us there.

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