Arts center proposal ups rent, preserves service requirement

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

The Noyes Cultural Arts Center will not lose its community service requirement if Evanston City Council maintains the change to the proposed 2003-04 budget that it passed at Saturday’s budget meeting.

The city currently subsidizes tenants’ rent fees in exchange for community service at various local institutions. Community service hours are determined by square footage, according to Douglas Gaynor, Evanston’s director of the parks, forestry and recreation department.

Instead of dropping the subsidy, Noyes tenants would pay a 10 percent increase in rent, which amounts to a five percent increase after the anticipated yearly cost of living increase, according to Gaynor. Gaynor’s original proposal — part of City Manager Roger Crum’s budget introduced last month — would eliminate the requirement in exchange for a 15 percent rent increase.

Ald. Gene Feldman (9th) proposed the new plan, which City Council passed unanimously. This amends Crum’s budget proposal, which will be voted on later in February. The 10 percent increase would still leave the arts center with $20,000 in its share of the city’s deficit, according to Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th).

“It leaves a hole in the the budget the city manager has to fill,” Bernstein said.

But Feldman said he won’t sacrifice Evanston’s arts commitments for the sake of additional revenue.

“If we ever dropped (the community service requirement), I would want to close the building,” he said. “It’s so essential that it’s a part of (the center).”

Feldman said he is concerned that the artists’ rents will increase but thinks it is equitable if they “have to bear what others have to bear.”

“If we didn’t make artists share (the burden), it would be insulting to them,” he said. “While the amount can be disputed, the good will and purpose (of City Council) cannot be disputed.”

Mayor Lorraine H. Morton said she is pleased the council passed Feldman’s proposal.

“This is a city that is known for the arts,” she said. “I would never want to read in The Wall Street Journal that we turned our back to it.”

Sally Parsons, chairwoman of the Noyes Cultural Arts Center Task Force, said the city provides $32,000 in rent subsidy to tenants.

But the artists actually provide between $60,000 and $93,000 a year in community service because they often volunteer more than the minimal number of hours, according to Diane Leavitt, the administrative director of the Piven Theatre Workshop.

“That’s a two- to three-fold return on the city’s investment in the arts,” she said.

A strong city arts program is especially important because Evanston public schools are cutting back on their funds for arts, Leavitt said.

“While other communities may pay lip service to the arts, Evanston established an arts (building),” she said.

In another matter Saturday morning, Feldman asked City Council to reduce the $500,000 increase in the city’s real estate transfer fee which Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) had proposed. The anticipated $500,000 would come from additional projected revenue from transfers in real estate ownership in certain areas of the city, according to Feldman.

Bernstein, like Feldman, said it is better to be conservative than to lack funds in a year.

“(Rainey) was counting on money to come in,” Bernstein said. “To do that was to threaten viability.”

The council voted 6-1, with only Rainey dissenting. Two aldermen — Joseph Kent (5th) and Stephen Engelman (7th) — were absent from the meeting.