Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyest St. RoundTable photo

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The future of the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, in serious doubt as recently as one year ago, appeared on solid footing Monday night, June 4, as a resolution concerning tenant leases and a tenant association at Noyes, accompanied by a presentation by Piven, appeared before the Human Services Committee.

A capital infusion by Piven, coupled with an expected major grant that will cover the cost of roof repairs, eased the crisis that faced the Center. Tenants, however, remain concerned about displacement by Piven proposals for expansion.

Over a year ago, faced with ominous repair issues that the City simply could not afford to absorb and the loss of its largest tenant as Piven entertained offers to leave the Center, the City briefly considered selling Noyes and moving on. Since then, several events have occurred to brighten the future of Noyes.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Piven Executive Director Leslie Brown said the City and Piven discussed what it would take to keep Piven in Noyes, and in Evanston.

Piven came up with a plan under which it would fund an approximately $3 million renovation to the south end of the Center, significantly increasing its footprint while creating a state-of-the-art theater complex.

Ms. Brown presented two Piven plans. The first would have taken over the basement, first floor and second floor of the south end of the center. In response to community and Noyes tenant input, a second, scaled-back, proposal eliminates the basement portion.

Both plans include a new theater, green room and lobby area on the first floor, and classrooms, smaller theater spaces and administrative offices on the second floor. Piven’s footprint would expand from about 4,250 square feet to more than 11,500 square feet.

A second development is the formation of a Noyes Center tenant organization, in the works for about a year but officially formed in May 2012. The tenant organization gives a unified voice to the single-artist tenants in Noyes – painters, voice artists, smaller theater groups, photographers, and others. The tenants grouped together form a counterbalance to the larger Piven.

Speaking for the tenants, Ken Arlen, the organization’s president, urged a smaller footprint for Piven – about 8,800 square feet. The smaller footprint would displace fewer current tenants and preserve some of the prime, airy and well-lit second-floor artist spaces.

A third development is the imminent move of the Evanston Art Center from Harley Clarke mansion to an as yet undetermined location. The EAC currently occupies significant space in Noyes, and it is anticipated that when it relocates it will relinquish its Noyes space.

Finally, in a major development announced June 4, Mr. Bobkiewicz said that the City is “very close to announcing a grant that will cover the roof repairs.” Removing the roof from the list of major needed repairs will go a long way toward solving the Center’s sustainability issues, he said. “If you take the roof off the table,” and add money contributed by Piven for renovation of the entire building, then “my suspicion is you’ll have enough capital dollars” to sustain the building, he said.

Despite the big announcement and the grand Piven plans, the only item before the Committee Monday night was the recognition of the tenant organization and changes to the tenant lease conditions. Changes include longer-term leases – current rules limit lease terms to one year – and allowing subleases. It is common for theaters to sublease theater space to other companies when they are not currently producing plays, but the current terms do not allow such a practice.

The Committee unanimously passed the resolution passing those two items. Bigger changes are coming as the Piven proposal solidifies.