In the wake of pulling plans for a 37-story downtown tower with a new theater at its base, Northlight Theatre Executive Director Tim Evans says the city's leaders need to decide what their vision of the future for Evanston is.
In an interview with Evanston Now, Evans noted that there's not a lot of empty space anywhere in Evanston.
"If we want to grow, or have more affordable housing, or more business downtown, the only way to go is up," he said, "but the unanswered question is how far up is too far."
Northlight, along with Farpoint Development and McLaurin Development, announced late Thursday that they were withdrawing plans for the tower before even submitting it to the city's formal review process.
A rendering of the now-withdrawn proposed theater development.
"We always said we wanted to go out and listen before submitting plans to the city," Evans said. "We heard a lot of support, and a lot of concerns, and felt that to move forward was going to be tough."
"We have no interest in being in the middle of a community battle about the vision for downtown," Evans added.
Many speakers who turned out for community meetings said they'd love to have Northlight return to Evanston from Skokie, but hated the idea of the tower.
But Evans said Northlight doesn't have the financial resources to build a new theater on its own. (It would have been a tenant in the new building under the now-withdrawn proposal and would have only needed to raise funds to build out the interior of the space.)
"We're a mid-size theater company," Evans said, and "raising the $40 million to $45 million to build and equip a new space on our own -- I think that's an impossibility."
Evans said Northlight might be able to adapt a suitable existing space for theater use -- but nothing suitable appears to be available downtown.
"We're working with city staff and some real estate professionals to identify other potential locations downtown," Evans said. "And we'll keep Skokie on our radar as an option, and other communities. But we don't want to stray too far from our base of supporters and patrons. That's why Evanston has been an important place for us to look to return to."
As for the now-dropped proposed site in the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue, Evans said, "Those landowners are clearly interest in selling. But what happens to that block in the next four to five years, I don't know."
Evans said the controvery over the new theater site doesn't seem to have had any impact of Northlight's community support. "Everybody, including many of the people opposed to the building, seems to want to have Northlight back. We're going to run with that and see if we can make that happen."