Northlight: Tower needed to fund theater

Tim Evans.

Northlight Theatre's executive director, Tim Evans, told the audience at a 1st Ward meeting Tuesday night that a proposed 395-foot hotel and rental tower is key to funding the theater group's return to Evanston.

People waiting for the ward meeting to get underway in the community room at the downtown public library.

Most of the audience raised their hands when asked if they were Northlight patrons, and many said they'd love to see Northlight return to Evanston, but most commenters opposed adding another tall building downtown.

Asked how Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company funded a new building in 1998 and hopes to fund an expansion now, Evans said he worked for Steppenwolf in 1998 and that building was funded largely through state and federal grant money that simply doesn't exist today.

As for Steppenwolf's current expansion plans, he said they're trying to raise $50 million -- but they're a much larger organization than Northlight -- with an annual budget of $22 million, compared to Northlight's $3.2 million.

Northlight will still be raising funds -- about $20 million -- to build out the interior of the planned Evanston space. To fund the building shell as well with private donations, Evans suggested, would be virtually impossible.

But, he added, "If everybody here has their checkbooks and would be happy to write us a big number ..."

Nobody in the audience was seen reaching for a checkbook.

Scott Goodman.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz asked how much of a subsidy the developers planned to ask from the city. 

Scott Goodman of Farpoint Development said the project is seeking no city subsidy.

He added that discussions are continuing about whether the city would end up owning the parking garage in the building. There was no mention of what compensation the city might receive for vacating an alley that runs through the site, in the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue.

The proposed Northlight development is highlighted on this Google Maps image.

Bobkiewicz said the city would receive several revenue streams from the development -- from the amusement tax on theater tickets, the hotel tax and the local liquor tax and city share of the sales tax on meals served in the planned restaurant.

The project also would return one of the buildings, now owned by Northwestern University, to the property tax rolls

Bobkiewicz said the new residents of the building could also be important to retaining the downtown Whole Foods store.

"Their lease is ticking and they've said they don't want to stay," the city manager said. "So we need a justification, need to have more people shop there."

"Those nice folks at Amazon" which just bought the Whole Foods chain, "are sharpening their pencils," he added.

Hank Goldman, a Sherman Plaza resident, said there's already a lot of empty retail in Evanston and asked why the city needed another tower with even more retail space.

Goodman said the project would help solve the retail vacancy problem -- with the theater, the hotel and the apartments bring more people downtown to support retail uses.

The proposed Northlight project would also have only a tiny fraction of the retail space that Sherman Plaza added to downtown. 

The Northlight project hasn't yet begun the city's formal review process. It appeared, as Tuesday night's meeting ended, that additional informal meetings may be held before the formal review begins, but no schedule for additional meetings was announced.

The city's community development director, Johanna Leonard, noted that because the project is seeking planned development allowances beyond the basic level set in the city's zoning code, it would ultimately require a two-thirds vote by the City Council to be approved.

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Comments

Of course they raised their hand

The article said "Most of the audience raised their hands when asked if they were Northlight patrons, and many said they'd love to see Northlight return to Evanston,"

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When you have a meeting aimed at people who want something, they will vote for it.

A more honest idea of who/how many want it is a random sample. E.g. phone calls, petitions done at various locations such as areas of different income and housing value.

The point ...

was not to suggest that the people at the meeting represented a random cross section of Evanston. The point was that most people at the meeting liked having Northlight return, but many of the same people don't want a tower. So they're conflicted.

-- Bill

Can't believe Whole Foods wants to leave downtown Evanston!

I can't believe Whole Foods wants to leave downtown Evanston! It's been there for as long as I can remember - over 20 years! Is this because Amazon wants us to order groceries online rather than walking to a convenient location? If they leave, hopefully another grocery will take notice and fill the void!

I agree -- it's disturbing to

I agree -- it's disturbing to hear that Whole Foods is threatening to leave downtown Evanston. They spared no expense in transforming the dreary, cramped Dominick's on Green Bay Rd into one of the most beautiful grocery stores in our area. It's been clear since that new store opened that it was to be their North Shore flagship, the other Evanston locations be damned.

Way too much disposal income !

People who shop at "Whole Paycheck" should be charged an additional 25% on their Federal Income Taxes for having too much disposal income.

Thanks. That's really kind of

Thanks. That's really kind of you. I shop at Whole Foods (really, the "Whole Paycheck" line is tired) and I definitely don't have much disposable* income. Shopping there on a budget takes a little more effort -- meaning I can't just mindlessly shop without any concern for what processed, fake food crap I'm throwing into my shopping basket -- but I believe it's worth it. I'm sure you can't be convinced and I don't really know why I'm arguing with an internet troll, but here it is. 

Glencoe's new theater

The Chicago Tribune coverage about this mentioned Glencoe's new theater, which it states cost $28 million. So, following the logic we heard from developers, Glencoe must have built a tower?

No.

"At 36,000 square feet, the new building, at 325 Tudor Court, easily could have been a monolith, overwhelming the two- and three-story pedestrian scale of Glencoe's downtown. So Gang and her design principal on the project, Juliane Wolf, smartly broke down its mass into a villagelike cluster of smaller volumes grouped around the entrancing atrium."

Wouldn't that sentence be nice to read about Evanston?

Differences

A previous Chicago Tribune story mentioned that both stages at Writers Theater are smaller than what's proposed for Northlight -- and that Writers got an extremely good deal on the property -- it's paying just $1 a year to lease the land under the building for 99 years from the Woman's Library Club of Glencoe.

In a typical year, it also has a budget roughly triple that of Northlight.

-- Bill