Potential new tenant for Howard Street Theater may reduce cost of project


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Ald. Brian Miller (9th) speaks at a campaign event. Miller said he would like to do more “due diligence” on the potential tenant for the Howard Street Theater, Theo Ubique.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

A new concept for the Howard Street Theater project may end up saving the city in construction costs.

The theater, which has not yet received final approval from City Council, would be constructed in the 700 block of Howard Street. The city had originally for Strawdog Theatre Company to occupy the theater. In the spring, Strawdog attempted to temporarily lease another city property on Howard Street, a move that didn’t sit well with a Chicago restaurant who also wanted to lease the space. Soon after, Strawdog pulled out of the deal. The city is now in talks with another Chicago-based theater group, cabaret company Theo Ubique.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting Monday she thinks the group would be a good fit.

“This is a dinner theater concept,” she said. “It’s a much more reasonable (project).”

Because Theo Ubique is a cabaret theater, the same plans that were originally drawn up for
Strawdog — which is a more traditional theater group — could not be used.

The plans drawn up for Strawdog were estimated to cost more than $5 million dollars. The estimates for Theo Ubique will be $1.4 to $1.7 million less than that, assistant city manager Marty Lyons said. Theo Ubique would be responsible for contributing about $200,000.

Aldermen at the City Council meeting on Monday narrowly approved a change order of just more than $12,000 to increase payments to Ross Barney Architects to draw up plans for another iteration of the Howard Street Theater. That money is coming from the Howard Ridge TIF fund.

Ald. Brian Miller (9th), voted against the change order both in the committee meeting and at the council meeting later that night. Miller said he would like to do more “due diligence” before spending more money on the project.

“We’re beginning to go down this path and spending money and moving in this direction, and we haven’t approved it,” he said. “We haven’t gotten all the information that we need to make this decision in a properly-informed manner.”

A concept design estimate included in documents for this week’s canceled Economic Development Committee meeting shows the plans consolidating the two storefront spaces to make room for a 86-seat cabaret theater with a bar and catering kitchen, as well as dressing room space for the actors.

According to a draft copy of the lease, Theo Ubique group would pay $3,800 a month to the city for rent for the first two years, if the project is approved. The rent would increase after that.

“This is really just exciting — a perfect concept — and it’s a reasonably priced one,” Rainey said. “I think we finally have this figured out.”

The plans, and Theo Ubique, will be discussed at the Economic Development Committee meeting next month.

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Twitter: @noracshelly