The Evanston Land Use Commission unanimously – albeit, for some members, reluctantly – recommended a proposal simplifying the facade of the planned Northlight Theatre complex at 1012-1016 Church St.

Architectural drawing of the originally approved facade of the Northlight Theatre complex. Credit: Northlight Theatre

The new plans, according to city documents, would modify the exterior from “a ‘serrated’ glass curtain wall to a gridded aluminum and glass wall” along Church Street.

The changes were necessitated by overall supply chain issues; price of glass increases brought on by the war in Ukraine (which is a key glass supplier), and the decision to go with a “Midwestern industrial look.” With the commission’s recommendation locked in, the proposal next heads to the City Council’s Planning & Development Committee and then the council itself.

Craig Smith of Eckenhoff Saunders architects said the reduction of glass supplied through Ukraine resulted in increased demand from glass – and higher prices – from suppliers across the board. He noted the new design still employed a glass facade and would result in no changes to the planned height or footprint of the building.

Updated Northlight Theatre rendering. Credit: Northlight Theatre

“We needed to reduce the costs of this building without reducing the impact of this building,” explained Northlight Executive Director Timothy Evans.

The cost of the “curtain wall” went up by about $500,000 and Evans noted that the originally planned facade would likely necessitate having to raise an additional $750,000.

“It’s not an easy fundraising environment,” he added. 

Several commissioners, while expressing sympathy to the company’s plight, nevertheless did not hide their disappointment with the newer, less ornate design. Commissioner George Halik initially said the new look was a “step down” from the original, an opinion with which Commissioner Brian Johnson concurred. Commissioner Kristine Westerberg suggested that such ex post facto approvals could lead to Evanston developments regularly looking substantially different from the plans officials approve.

Commissioner Max Puchtel said the changes were “unfortunate, but so are wars and pandemics.”

The Ann Rainey Apartments complex on Howard Street underwent a similar aesthetic change over the course of its construction, with developers citing higher costs as the reason. Evans told the commission that he had learned about that case and wanted to be forthcoming with city officials before construction had progressed too far, for which several commissioners expressed gratitude. 

Halik, for his part, said he was won over by Evans’ argument, and several commissioners noted that the project is eagerly anticipated by city residents. Commissioner Jeanne Lindwall said she thought the new design fit in well with its surroundings.  

“The theater is extremely important to the city,” said Commissioner John Hewko. “I don’t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

“We really need this theater in downtown Evanston,” added Commissioner Kiril Mirintchev.

Commission Chair Matt Rodgers said he had no issues with the revamped design, and that, were it to have been the one originally proposed, would have likely passed with little controversy.

“Sometimes you can dream big – and reality hits you in the face and you cannot get what you wanted,” said Rodgers.

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  1. Elon Musk probably could have saved money up front had he stayed with the rather traditional box like design of cars,..

    ..but one could say, by not doing that, the design of the Model S was instrumental in attracting people to the car..

    .. seventy percent of our impressions are visual..

    ..so if the wall of glass is the preferred visual design, to which I would agree, then you should stay with that design and take a lesson from Mr.Musk when it comes to the positive benefits of attractive design..

    ..of which there are many, like the way that the Apple products are designed and packaged.