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On July 8, City Council voted to introduce a measure that would provide the Piven Theatre Workshop with a long-term lease and a $2.2 million loan from the City for renovations to the Noyes Cultural Arts Center for expansion and construction of new theater space. But the long-historied process was interrupted by a surprise proposal from Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, who stood to “ask the Council and others to consider a different proposal for Noyes.”
“If we’re going to make a commitment to the arts, we need to do it [right],” he said. The performing arts and visual arts stuffed together within an inadequate building at Noyes is not the right way, he said, echoing comments he has made throughout Council’s consideration of the Piven proposal.
Instead, he said, Council should focus on creating a new performing arts center in downtown Evanston. This proposal follows recommendations made by no fewer than three studies commissioned by the City over the last 24 months, most recently the evanstARTS initiative.
The performing arts, such as live theater, music and dance, have very different needs from the visual arts, Ald. Tendam has said. Downtown Evanston is better suited to handle the influx of theatergoers than is Noyes Street with its inadequate parking and residential aspects, he said. “This proposal creates the most impact for the community,” he said.
“I am willing to take the lead,” Ald. Tendam said, proposing to return to Council within two weeks. Ald. Tendam said he would devote himself to bringing everyone to the table. “In two weeks, I can get commitments from organizations that we go in this direction. … I’d like to believe we can do this,” he said.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said, “I am glad to let you drive this bus for two weeks,” adding that she would help in any way possible.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “The City placed the [Noyes] tenants and Piven in this position” by asking tenants for proposals as to how to maintain the Noyes Center. “The City has a responsibility to put forth the best product it can,” and it “has a responsibility to maintain its buildings. We asked Piven to do this. This isn’t a situation where they were trying to get something from us,” he said. “I want us to be aggressive in the next two weeks” in looking for a way to construct a new building while looking at other ways to maintain existing buildings, Ald. Wilson added.
Leslie Brown, executive director of the Piven Theater Workshop, said, “We’ve stuck with this for over two years. My main concern is that there needs to be a plan.” Piven is working on several different proposals in several communities, she said. “We are open [to Ald. Tendam’s proposal] but we do need a plan.”
Council voted unanimously to introduce the current Piven proposal. In two weeks’ time, if Ald. Tendam is successful, Council may be wrestling with a very different proposal.
Update on the Tendam Proposal
The RoundTable spoke with Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam shortly before press time for an update on his progress in securing commitments to build a performing arts center in downtown Evanston. He said he continues to meet and speak with stakeholders and elected officials representing downtown Evanston including Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Everyone with whom he has spoken has supported the concept, he said.
The idea is not for a single theater, Ald. Tendam said, but for a complex of up to three connected theaters within the same large building. The location, he said, would be in an area west of the train tracks bordered by the tracks, Davis Street, Maple Avenue and Church Street. He did not have an estimated cost of the facility yet as the location has not been pinpointed. Cost will depend greatly on whether the building is brand new or a repurposed existing building, he said. The proposed Grace Theater site, now Tom Thumb, is not under consideration. “It is not big enough,” he said.
For now, he said, he expects the current Piven Theater proposal, introduced at Council’s July 8 meeting, to be delayed, though he was unsure of whether the measure would be held or tabled. Piven, NEXT Theater, and another unnamed theater group are expected to make an announcement about the proposed new theater complex on Monday morning, July 22. This is a developing story – there will be further updates at evanstonroundtable.com.