Skokie-based Northlight Theater and Chicago-area developers have withdrawn from a project that would have brought a large-scale performing arts complex to downtown Evanston.
In a statement released March 1, officials from Northlight, Farpoint Development, and McLaurin Development said, “We now feel that to move forward, given that the site has become a source of contention, would serve to perpetuate a divisive issue for city leaders and residents in a time of continuing debate about the vision and future of downtown Evanston.”
The project, introduced last fall, was met with widespread opposition at a Jan. 31 meeting of the City’s Economic Development Committee. Several community members voiced concerns about the number of downtown businesses – about 50, according to estimates – that could have been displaced by the project.
Many speakers also said they were wary of potential means by which City officials sought to explore financing the performing arts center; among the possibilities raised was a performing arts commission with taxing authority. The Committee on Jan. 31 voted 4-3 to pass along to City Council a non-binding resolution to authorize City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to investigate financing possibilities.
In their March 1 statement, theater and officials said they remain committed to returning to Evanston, where Northlight was founded in 1974.
“This decision did not come lightly,” said the statement. “But it continues to be Northlight's goal to be an integral part of the Evanston community. That includes listening to the concerns and issues raised by residents, businesses, and aldermen. Our intent was, and remains, to create a cultural, social, and economic hub in downtown Evanston, one that city leaders, residents, and local organizations have sought for many years. Such a Performing Arts Center will bring countless patrons to downtown Evanston to dine and shop, and generate new spending, revenue, and jobs for the City and area businesses, as well as tax relief for its residents. These are worthy goals – ones Northlight intends to continue to pursue. We will now seek other viable locations in Evanston and, perhaps, elsewhere. In the meantime, Northlight will remain a vital, creative force in the Evanston community with our world-class theater, our successful educational initiatives at ETHS and District 65, and our ongoing partnerships with many Evanston social service organizations including Y.O.U., YWCA, Family Focus and Evanston Scholars.
“We now look forward to engaging with the community in constructive conversation about how our relocation can improve the quality of life in Evanston – culturally and economically.”