Developer considers downtown theater concept

Looking south on Benson from the corner of Clark.

Evanston could finally get its long-sought downtown theatrical venue if plans to be discussed at a city committee meeting tonight come to fruition.

Paul Zalmezak of the city's economic development staff says Evanston's Second Baptist Church has signed a contract to purchase the building on the southeast corner of Clark Street and Benson Avenue from Evanston Benson LLC. That one-story building on a 16,380 square foot lot houses the Papa John's pizza shop, the Stained Glass restaurant and several other businesses

Evanston Benson LLC also owns the Evanston Athletic Club property next door on Benson Avenue, but that parcel is not included in the planned sale.

Second Baptist, located south of the athletic club at 1717 Benson St., and the developer it is working with are talking to officials at St. James Armenian Church, at 816 Clark St., just east of the Papa John's building, about possibly adding that roughly 6,600 square foot parcel to the development, Zalmezak says.

Looking east on Clark toward St. James Church.

The concept, Zalmezak says, is for a midrise building that would have retail on the first floor, the theater space just above that, and additonal floors devoted to office, residential or hotel use above that.

The properties are zoned D2, and under the city's zoning code, a new building on the site constructed as part of a planned development could be up to 125-feet tall, depending on how much parking it included on site.

Zalmezak stressed that the concept is still in the early planning stages and would probably require some combination of public and private financing to accomplish, as well as a capital fundraising campaign by the theater group or groups that would be based in the new building.

The proposal is to be discussed at a meeting of the Downtown Performing Arts Center Task Force which held about a dozen meetings last year but has been inactive since last fall. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Room 4802 at the Civic Center.

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