Evanston panel votes to review Piven proposal again next month

Joel Freimuth gives a presentation to the Human Services Committee about the Piven Theater expansion proposal. The meeting took place on Tuesday evening at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

Sophia Bollag/Daily Senior Staffer

Joel Freimuth gives a presentation to the Human Services Committee about the Piven Theater expansion proposal. The meeting took place on Tuesday evening at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

Sophia Bollag, Copy Chief

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A city committee voted Monday to send the controversial Piven Theatre Workshop’s expansion proposal back to city staff for further review.

Evanston’s Human Services Committee asked city manager Wally Bobkiewicz to address concerns about the plan’s economic viability and fairness to other tenants and present his findings next month.

The unanimous vote poses a setback for supporters of the expansion plan who want the issue to swiftly reach the City Council.

The theater’s proposal to more than double its space within the Noyes Cultural Arts Center has angered tenants and Evanston residents for months, even before the final version of the plan was released in April. The proposal recommends that Piven pay $1 in rent for the next 25 years in exchange for contributing money to the aging building’s renovations.

In his presentation on the proposal, Piven board member Joel Freimuth described the theater’s proposal as a “public-private partnership” that would ultimately generate millions of dollars in revenue over the next 25 years. He cited several aspects of the theater’s proposed renovation that would improve the building for all tenants, including upgraded heating, air conditioning and electrical wiring in the building, as well as a new roof.

“The entire building will benefit,” Freimuth said. “It is an idea that accomplishes everyone’s goals.”

About 50 citizens signed up to comment on the Piven proposal. Following Freimuth’s presentation, most spoke out criticizing the proposal and challenging his statements.

Many questioned the economic projections in the proposal, arguing they were made based on ideal conditions. People also said Bobkiewicz had not done enough to facilitate compromise between the Piven Theater and other tenants.

Gary Geiger, director of the Evanston Children’s Choir who was faced with possible relocation to accommodate the proposed expansion, said although the current plan does not accommodate all residents, it is only “one or two rooms” away from doing so.

“Let’s make the Noyes Center a real example of our shining commitment to the arts and create a bigger, better facility that can accommodate all of its remaining artists,” Geiger said. “If we’re going to do this, let’s stop damaging the very community we purport to value so much.”

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), whose ward includes the center, argued in favor of sending the plan back to Bobkiewicz. She suggested that minor changes to the proposal could ensure a more equitable solution.

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