Ross Martens.

City Council Monday is scheduled to give final approval to a parking variation needed for redevelopment of Evanston’s Varsity Theater theater building.

And, despite concerns voiced by some neighbors, the owner of a business that will be impacted by the new development says he supports it.

Ross Martens of The Alley Gallery, located in Bookman’s Alley just across from the theater, told residents at a 1st Ward meeting Thursday, “We’re really excited about” the plans to add 35-apartments on the upper floors of the old theater building and to open up the blank north wall of the theater building with new storefronts.

A rendering of the proposed redevelopment of Bookman’s Alley.

In all the years since its founding in 1985 that the gallery, a framing shop, has been in the alley, Martens said, “it hasn’t changed much” and he hopes having more activity on the Varsity side of the alley “will bring people down there.”

“More of a pedestrian focus,” he said, “would be amazing, it has real potential.”

The Varsity’s owner has already reached agreement with the city for an easement that would permit closing to vehicular traffic the portion of the east-west alley east of where it meets a north-south alley in the block.

Some neighbors at the meeting continued to voice concerns about possible disruption to traffic patterns because of the planned closure.

With the easement and the parking variation — which calls for providing two parking spaces on site and leasing 16 more off-site — the project will only need approval of building permits to have all the city approvals needed to begin construction at the 1710 Sherman Ave. site.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I truly love the Charm Of Bookman’s Alley, a treasure in the midst of Evanston. Keep it and increase that viability!

    1. Keep it that way and watch Evanston slowly continue to turn into a ghost town. Each passing day more businesses are closing. If people in this community continue to complain about ridiculous issues like the disruption of the “flow of traffic” or denying a restaurant the opportunity to bring life to a few parks, Evanston will become a defunct city, and whether or not it is “charming” will mean zilch. Keep putting up barriers, City Council, and businesses will find Evanston even less desirable then they already do. Stop giving power to one or two voices in the community who are unwilling to accept the fact that change is inevitable for Evanston’s survival. Support business ideas that will stimulate growth in the City instead of putting business owners under a microscope to find the tiniest of faults.

  2. This is a mature plan that is concrete and realistic, one that could revivify Evanston’s devastated downtown, giving it a Heart and a Destination. The idea to preserve (i.e. mummify) the Varsity Theater is just pie in the sky. It’s been vacant now for over three decades and no one has done jack to bring it back. Let’s face that fact and instead do something that _can_ be done and will have a real impact.

  3. Quite frankly, I think that the Varsity project is necessary for the city because it carries such an important concept and can bring significant improvements. Also, I am amazed by the attitude and reaction of the business owner that will be impacted by the new development on this project, because it is such a rare thing and this support has a great value. I think that Ross Martens thinks in the right direction regarding this project because Varsity can be advantageous for him and his business, making its own contribution to increasing the client base in his shop. I really hope that Varsity will open new opportunities for citizens and will be really prospective because it has a great potential.

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