The building that once held the storied Varsity Theater is moving to a new use. Credit: Photo by Bob Seidenberg

Evanston City Council members have given a development team the green light on a new chapter for the building that once housed the storied Varsity Theater, approving a major parking variation Monday, April 25, to move the project forward.

Council members voted unanimously in support of a recommendation of the city’s Land Use Commission and staff to allow 18 parking spots, including 16 off-site, rather than the 28 are required of developers for the site at 1706-10 Sherman Ave.

The council action brings to a close a long effort by Steve Rogin, who acquired the property in 2004, to find a new use for the building – and the theater, which sits behind its brick facade.

The theater, regarded as one of Chicagoland’s premier movie palaces when it opened in 1926, closed in August 1984.

Rogin is teaming with Chris Dillion from real estate developer Campbell Coyle in the adaptive reuse of the building into a 35-unit apartment building with nearly 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

The project also calls for the redevelopment of the alley that runs to the north, adding lighting, public art, plantings and seating along the sides of Bookman’s Alley to support anticipated street-level commercial activity in the new Varsity Theater building.

A rendering shows retail stretching along the ground level of the Varsity Building, at left, and running into the alley. Credit: Campbell Coyle Real Estate rendering

In a statement issued after the vote, Rogin and Dillion said, “We’ve sought to put forth a highly contextual project within the former Varsity Theater structure that is unequivocally a ‘win-win’ for Evanston.

“The adaptive reuse of the former Varsity Theater will reinforce Bookman’s Alley as a beloved space and catalyze a strategic block in downtown Evanston.

“The Varsity joins a growing list of strategic investments in downtown Evanston post-COVID.”

Council Member Clare Kelly, in whose First Ward the project is located, spoke at the meeting in praise of the building’s adaptive reuse, saying the action was in keeping with other measures the council took that night, such as approving major climate change legislation.

“In the words of Carl Elefante, the former president of the American Institute of Architects, ‘The greenest building is the one that already exists.’ And I think we should do a lot more of this.”

She also pointed to the developers’ plan for Bookman’s Alley as another special feature of the project and said, “I just think this is very exciting.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Will any of the beautiful interior detail of the theater be reused in the new uses for the Varsity ?