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The City’s Economic Development Committee on April 24 unanimously agreed to recommend that the City approve a $165,000 forgivable loan that would allow the Music Institute of Chicago (MIC) to both consolidate some of its facilities and launch a black box theater at 1702 Sherman Ave.
The basement-level space in the Evanston Galleria building, formerly the Marshall Field’s building, has long been vacant. MIC announced plans to move there last December and expects to take occupancy in July; the organization will close its facilities on Dempster Street in Evanston and on Green Bay Road in Wilmette. About 15 employees will be shifted to Evanston from Wilmette, according to Mark George, MIC president and CEO, to join the employees already working in the City.
“It took quite a bit of vision to walk in and decide this was the place for us, but certainly a great, strong point is simply where it’s located,” said Mr. George. He added that there was “a lot of alignment” between MIC’s plans, the evanstARTS community collaborative project and the City’s development goals.
The City will forgive $16,500 of the loan annually for a period of 10 years. Should MIC leave before that time, the remaining balance will have to be repaid. Furthermore, performances by non-profit entities held in the new space will not be subject to the City’s Amusement Tax. In lieu of applying the tax, MIC will annually donate $5,000 worth of free tickets to students in Districts 65 and 202 schools, according to the proposal. MIC would also provide tickets and discounted classes to Evanstonians in need.
“We’re committed to a 10-year lease in the space at 1702, but we really are committed to being here for decades to come,” Mr. George said, noting that all of the principals involved in renovating the space are Evanston-based businesses, among them the architecture firm Behles & Behles. “We didn’t contrive it like that, but that’s how it worked out,” he added.
MIC officials initially thought the space would be used for administrative offices and treatment rooms for their music therapy program, but eventually they determined that the location could accommodate a performance space as well. The organization expects the project to cost about $825,000. Besides the loan, the building owner is expected to put in $110,000 towards the build-out; MIC expects to cover the rest through loans, fundraising and internal capital sources.
Mr. George said such a space would be very different from Nichols Concert Hall – MIC’s main music venue at 1490 Chicago Ave. – as it would primarily feature smaller-scale performances and serve as a low-cost theater venue for rental companies. The theater’s rental rate model will follow the same one used at Nichols, however.
“When the now-cancelled Kelsey Grammer TV show ‘Boss’ filmed [at Nichols], they got the full, ‘for-profit’ rate, but when a non-profit organization wants to perform there, they get a much-reduced rate,” Mr. George said. “There’ve been many occasions where we’ve offered the space completely gratis, because we think of ourselves as an incubator of performance groups.”
Committee members were unanimous in their support for the proposal. Planning Commission liaison Seth Freeman was enthusiastic and urged Mr. George to press the principals further to ensure that the majority of the contractors, such as plumbers and electricians, were based in the City as well.
“That conversation’s already been started. In fact, it’s part of the winning bidder’s proposal,” replied Mr. George. “I can certainly have a more formal conversation and encourage them to every extent possible to do that.”
Mr. Freeman additionally recommended that MIC increase the number of tickets allotted for students, since the new space would provide ample opportunities to engage Evanston music students. Mr. George was amenable to the idea, and suggested that the proposal could be amended to that effect.
Ald. Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, also praised the plan, especially since MIC was taking over a long-vacant space. “This benefits the owner of that property, who would not have benefitted otherwise,” Ms. Rainey said. “We’ll now have that space occupied and that landlord getting rent.”
Member-at-large Daniel Mennemeyer agreed that MIC’s plans met the committee’s goal of strengthening Evanston’s arts scene. He noted that the proposal was strengthened by their sound balance sheet and solid standing in the community, making for “a classic case study of what should be happening in front of this committee.
The City Council has to approve this proposal. The next City Council meeting is May 13.