The latest attempt to construct and operate a theater on Howard Street appeared before City Council on Oct. 24. An earlier proposal was for a $5.5 theater. Council later approved a contract with Ross Barney Architects to scale down the project to $1.4-$1.7 million. The measure before Council was a change order that would add $12,500 to the Ross Barney contract. It passed by a narrow 5-4 vote.
The theater project has long been a centerpiece of Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey’s economic development plans for the area. The City’s Eighth Ward encompasses all of the Evanston side of Howard Street. The City owns several properties along Howard Street, including the space currently occupied by the Peckish Pig and until recently the building that housed the Ward 8 restaurant and cocktail lounge, which it sold to the business owners just last month.
Previously, the City came close to agreements with Edgewater’s City Lit Theater Company. When that deal fell through, the City turned to Strawdog Theater Company. Strawdog backed away from the $5.5 million proposal earlier this year, and the City now turned to what at the time was the second-place proposal, Theo Ubique of Rogers Park.
City CFO Marty Lyons said the work described in the change order “has already been done,” resulting in a more limited theater design concept. “We try not to” complete the work before a change order is approved by Council “with capital projects,” he said, but in this case the design concept was necessary before the project could go forward at all.
Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said Council did not have enough information to go forward with anything at all. “Send us anything and everything you have,” he said to staff. “We need to make this decision in a properly informed manner. I haven’t seen any of the background on this group [Theo Ubique] at all.”
The matter will appear before the Nov. 16 Economic Development Committee, said Mr. Lyons, and all information will be available at that time.
“Just to remind the Committee, we are talking about a $12,500 change order,” said Ald. Rainey. “I think we finally have this figured out.”
The committee voted 4-1 to pass the matter on to Council. At Council, the proposal picked up only a single additional vote, passing 5-4. Ald. Miller was joined by Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, in voting no.
Theo Ubique is a cabaret dinner theater, serving meals and producing performances. The company currently operates out of No Exit Café on Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park. Mr. Lyons said the City would borrow the approximately $1.5 million needed for the project, and Theo Ubique committed to raising $200,000 of the cost. The project will be bid out, with no guarantee that the current design architect, Ross Barney, would obtain the final architectural contract.