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Workers at the Boocoo cultural center on Evanston’s west side are organizing an Oct. 2 fundraising event saying that without immediate help the center may have to close its doors.

Boocoo Administrator Alicia Hempfling says some staff members have decided to forego paychecks to try to keep the place running.

“We want Boocoo to be able to continue to offer creative experiences to people in the community, but maintaining the building and regular operating costs are becoming overwhelming,” Hempfling said.

But, in a phone interview, Hempfling was unable to provide details of the organization’s financial condition.

And the person Hemphling said could do that, Boocoo Director Jason Vanhoose, so far has not responded to a request made through Hemphling to call back.

Boocoo opened in mid-2007 after an extensive renovation project on the former dollar-store building it occupies at 1823 Church St.

It’s an operation of the non-profit Enterprise Development Foundation controlled by entrepreneur and former software company executive Daniel Cheifetz.

Cheifetz has not returned a call seeking comment, although Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, says he told her that he did not write the e-mail newsletter issued by Boocoo late last week that first claimed the center was at risk of closing.

IRS-990 forms filed by the Enterprise Development Foundation show that its expenses exceeded revenues by more than $1 million for the period from January 2007 through March 2009. More recent data is not yet publicly available.

For the last 12 months of that period, the foundation lost $354,000 on revenues of $459,000. Its expenses included $327,000 in payroll costs.

Alderman Holmes said she plans to meet today with city staff members to try to determine whether there are ways the city could help keep the cultural center open.

“I understand everybody’s having trouble financially these days,” Holmes said, “and I’m trying to do what I can on my end to help.”

“Boocoo is very valuable to the area,” she added, “and I certainly don’t want it to close.”

Top: Detail from a mural image featured on the Boocoo website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. Well, someone certainly

    Well, someone certainly wasn't watching the budget….

    This is hardly a crisis. 

    From what you've written it appears that the problem has been developing for at least two years. What was done in the meantime? what funding sources, granting sources were courted and sought? how come the city wasn't apprised of the situation at the sign of the first shortfall???

    AND….while they claim to be an institution that does x, y, and z do they have the outcome measures to document that???

    This kind of stuff is sooooooooo preventable…..annoys me read a story where no one was keeping score or minding business…..

    1. I totally agree

      Winning Turtle has it right.  This was preventable.  However, if the prior directors are to be believed (and I have no reason to doubt them), they tried to take steps and were stonewalled by EDF.  Now, Boocoo has a terrible financial and administrative track record, that is certain to deter investors/funders.

  2. Solution

    MEH…So what is the solution pointing fingers?  Criticism is fine but it ain't worth the time and energy if there is no solution.

  3. Payroll costs seem high

    I thought BooCoo was a non profit. Seems like $327k in payroll is pretty high for a place that probably doesn't pay its regular staff high salaries or providing major benefits and perks. What's going on there?

    It seems a shame for this kind of resource to fail. Hopefully the city or another organization can take over and reorganize…

  4. Dire straights?

    Non. For. Profit. Payroll of $327,000. Funded by the 'Enterprise Development Foundation'. Clueless as to what that means in terms of who paid for the 'venture' called BooCoo to be created in the first place. As with life- times are hard. Cut spending. Think hard. Work harder. Private people have experienced pay cuts in exchange for not losing their job. Perhaps some of the top dogs  need to take a pay cut at the non-for-profit called BooCoo.  Review staffing and foot traffic. Cut hours that are slow so that you can cut payroll. Review your food costs. Times are hard. The answer is not put your hand out and ask for donations. Work harder. Make sacrifices. That's what the rest of us do in these tough times. And the worse part – something about 'the City of Evanston being involved with trying to help save BooCoo? You know how many other businesses out there could use help?

  5. BooCoo was a real estate venture w/ a cafe attached

    If you look at the 990 forms that Bill links to you see their main expenses are payroll $327K and "subcontracting"  $189K.

    When you look at their revenues, the biggest comes from "Building Program Income," $250K. The cafe only brought in $66K.

    I think the "Building Program Income" comes from the foundation's was part of Cheifetz's Evanston Community Builders  program which is a contracting company that employs 23 people according to their website.

    It is impossible to know what the "subcontracting" expenses are for, but it is extremely common in contracting to subcontract out parts of a job.  According to the Community Builders website, they also manage Church St. Village townhomes, so stuff like snow removal, etc… would probably show up as subcontractor expenses.

    So $327K is peanuts if you are actually employing that many people.  Probably the numbers on the website are eggagerated, though.  If you were only paying that much  in labor for 23 people the average hourly wage would be $6.80!

    But just from a cursory reading of the foundation's financials, the "bread and butter" of this enterprise has been the building program.

    With the real esatate market and new construction in the gutter, it is no wonder the enterprise is struggling.

    It is hard to see exactly how the cafe is doing (in comparison to the building component) since some expenses like personnel are bundled in the financials.  

     

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