1717 Central St., a former dialysis center, which the Evanston Art Center has identified as its new home.RoundTable photo

City Council voted at its Sept. 22 meeting to lend the Evanston Arts Center $500,000 toward the $2 million purchase price of the 1717 Central St. property, the location it has identified as its new home. Terms of the loan remain to be negotiated, though repayment with interest is to take place within 18 months.

The request came from the EAC in the form of a one-page letter without any accompanying documentation. Nora Diedrich, EAC’s executive director, said, “We just found out literally a week ago that the plan we had for financing was not going to go through.” Closing on the building is to take place on or before Oct. 6, and without $500,000 from somewhere, EAC will not be able to pay the purchase price, the memo said.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told the aldermen that, with so little time between Monday’s meeting and the Oct. 6 deadline, she made the decision to bring the matter directly to Council rather than through the usual committee channels. The item appeared as a special order of business.

“The request tonight is for direction,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. “We are not asking for any action.” Direction came in the form of a vote authorizing Mr. Bobkiewicz to negotiate loan terms with EAC.

Several aldermen commented on the lack of any supporting documentation. Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said that Council expected to review “financial documents” and “balance sheets” before final approval of any agreement Mr. Bobkiewicz negotiates. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, echoed that.

Ms. Diedrich said the Arts Center’s capital campaign, “See the Bigger Picture,” launched at the end of July and has produced $1.6 million already, with pledges of support totaling at least $150,000 more. The $1.6 million is already in the bank, said Ms. Diedrich. “We’re really thrilled with the effort,” she said, adding that the Arts Center has not conducted a capital campaign since the 1940s.

Noting that the Art Center has money in the bank and more rolling in, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, asked when the Arts Center intends to pay back any loan from the City. “Two years was mentioned,” said Ms. Diedrich, “And if that’s what the City requires we’re willing to make it work.”

Mr. Bobkiewicz said the $500,000 in City money would probably come from the Economic Development Fund. “That’s the first place we would look for that short period of time,” he said.

“Cash flow is important,” said Ald. Wilson. An 18-month repayment period is fine, he said, but there should be installment payments along the way so that money gets returned to the City for use on other projects.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said, “Once the building is purchased, it will come off the tax rolls” almost immediately. She suggested the loan agreement include a provision to “keep [the new property] on the tax rolls until they pay us back.” Her suggestion gained no traction.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said the City has “made a commitment to the arts,” and the EAC project added to the attention developers have been giving to Central Street. He praised the additional course offerings, such as classes in the culinary arts,  which the new building will allow.

“Job creation is one of our four main goals for the future,” said Ms. Diedrich.

Council voted 7-1 to authorize the loan agreement, with only Ald. Burrus voting “no.” The matter will return to Council for final vote after the terms of the loan agreement have been solidified. Presumably, documentation confirming the need for a loan, the organizations anticipated budget and financials, and a repayment schedule will accompany the final document.