City Council voted to issue a request for qualifications as the first step to finding a performing arts partner for the Howard Street space.                                                                                    RoundTable photo

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Efforts to woo a theater group to Howard Street revived on May 11, with City Council voting unanimously to issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) seeking a viable performing arts partner for the 700 block of Howard. The initiative comes after two theater groups proved unable to provide the financial stability and wherewithal necessary in the City’s eyes.

The RFQ process will open the door to any and all performing arts groups in the Chicagoland area to bring their creative energy and ideas to the process. The cost of the rehab necessary to construct a 100 to 150 seat theater at 717 and 721-23 Howard St.  could vary widely, depending on the concept and plans presented making the RFQ issuance just the beginning of the next phase of the Howard Street theater dream.

Alderman Ann Rainey, whose Eighth Ward includes all of Howard Street in Evanston, has long trumpeted a theater as a significant portion of the City’s overall plan to revitalize a stretch of commercial property bordering Chicago that has been problematic in the past. Projects such as the cocktail bar Ward 8 and brewpub Peckish Pig have proved successful, and their presence could work to attract a viable theater group. In the 1970s, a group of Northwestern students established the Practical Theatre on the Evanston side of Howard Street, and the Wisdom Bridge Theater thrived for a time on the Chicago side just east of the CTA station.

According to a staff memo, the RFQ idea came out of a “focus group of theater and performing arts experts” that met in March to discuss the viability of a Howard Street theater. The group included prominent representatives from the performing arts community, such as the League of Chicago Theaters (an organization with more than 200 theater members), Piven Theatre, Northlight Theater, the Hypocrites, and others. The group also included Ald. Rainey, two theater critics, and architect Mike Vasilk,o who has offered his expertise to the theater project since it began.

The RFQ will be “an application and guidelines for determining qualified performing arts professional to operate in the proposed Howard Street Theater,” according to the resolution approving the RFQ, and the City will “disseminate said application and guidelines publicly, and solicit responses,” seeking interested theater groups. Members of the focus group have agreed to aid in the distribution of the RFQ.

A RFQ is, of course, just the beginning. After responses have been received, if any, then the City will likely issue a request for proposal (RFP) to those groups determined to be “qualified” by the City.

There is no anticipated timeline as yet, although the RFQ itself  may contain a date certain within which responses are due.