Evanston officials say interest remains high in a reopening of a movie theater in the Church Street Plaza development. The theater closed last February after a nearly 20-year run. (Photo by Steve Cohen)

Evanston officials have received strong response from parties interested in bringing back movies to the former Century 12/Cinemark Theatres space and are optimistic the theater could reopen under new ownership in another year.

In the wake of the announcement of the theater’s closing in February, Annie Coakley, Executive Director of downtownevanston.org, which provides marketing and management services for the downtown area, said she fielded at least 17 calls from interested parties inquiring about occupying the theater space.

“It’s like my phone was ringing off the hook. It’s all I did for three days,” she said.

“Everyone said ‘This is a great market’ – that, and ‘Evanston needs a movie theater,'” she said.

Responding to a question at the City’s May 26 Economic Development Committee meeting, Paul Zalmezak, the City’s Economic Development Manager, said that after the offers were vetted, the number was whittled down to five.

In the meantime, CBRE, the commercial broker for the owner, San Francisco-based Stockbridge Capital Group, is in the process of receiving offers for the sale of the center, located at Church Street and Maple Avenue.

“I have a sense that those bids are going to be lower than the $70 million that this group [Stockbridge] paid for it back in 2013,” Mr. Zalmezak told Committee members at the May 26 meeting. “So that will bring the overall cost structure down, and they’ll be able to attract more tenants.”

Church Street Plaza, where the movie theater complex is located, is on the market. (Photo by Bob Seidenberg)

As for the prospect of a movie theater in Evanston’s future, Mr. Zalmezak told EDC members, “We will have a movie theater there.”

Cinemark’s pullout had nothing to do with Evanston economic attractiveness, he said. Rather, “it was the result of an unfortunate kind of corporate move.”

Century 12/Cinemark theatres and Stockbridge had been in litigation for nearly the entire duration of the pandemic over an exit clause in the lease, officials confirmed.

Mr. Zalmezak had initially estimated that it would take about 18 months to see a theater reopen, factoring in negotiations and the renovation that the new operator would want to make.

Ms. Coakley said in talks she had with potential operators, some raised questions about the theaters’ current layout.

In the original development plan for the theaters, City officials stipulated the inclusion of six theaters devoted to fine arts or independent film showings.

As a result, those theaters are appreciably smaller – with fewer than 100 seats – than the 300-seat theaters that might have aired a summer blockbuster in pre-pandemic times.

A new operator could be interested in some kind of hybrid arrangement, combining movie-going with another kind of entertainment, such as a music venue, Ms. Coakley said.

In its prospectus for the sale, CBRE noted that “Church Street Plaza is well-located within historic downtown Evanston, located just a few hundred feet from two major railway stops, each with 3,000 passengers per day. Two bus stops are nearby and the prestigious Northwestern University, home to over 30,000 students and faculty, is just a half mile away.

“This location allows the center to cater to a primary trade area with a desirable demographic base of over 296,764 residents,” the prospectus said, “with powerful average household incomes of $100,627, far exceeding the national average.”

 

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