Daily file photo by Jack Lido
Economic Development Committee members narrowly voted to approve an amended resolution concerning the construction of a building that would house Northlight Theatre at a meeting Jan. 31.
Committee members voted 4-3 in favor of the amended resolution, which removed language specifying the proposed location in the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue and authorized the city manager to investigate how a “single purpose unit of government” and public parking could support the return of Northlight Theatre from Skokie.
In 1996, the Illinois General Assembly created a unit of local government to finance and enable the construction of the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, according to city documents. The center is where the theater is currently housed.
In September, Farpoint Development proposed the building which would include Northlight Theatre, a boutique hotel, a restaurant, residential units and parking spaces.
At the meeting, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said she would like to receive more information about how such a government entity could help finance the Northlight project, and especially whether it would benefit other projects in the city.
“It is not like this council, and certainly not like this community, not to want to understand a tool that allows for development” Rainey said at the meeting. “It is an opportunity to get information about something we’ve never known about and we’ve never used.”
City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he wanted permission to investigate, not take action on, whether Northlight could finance itself in a way similar to how Skokie funded its facility.
More than 20 residents raised concerns with the resolution at the meeting. Several said they were worried about the transparency of the project and whether it would compromise the identity and personality of Evanston. Additionally, residents noted the possible loss of many local businesses to the construction.
Peter Demuth, vice president of the Southeast Evanston Association and a small business owner in the 1800 block of Sherman Avenue, said at the meeting that while he supports the restoration of Northlight Theatre, he opposes constructing the high-rise building that would house Northlight.
“While we applaud bringing back the wonderful Northlight Theatre to Evanston, we object to doing so at the expense of several businesses, including the Alley Gallery, Saville Flowers and Bookends and Beginnings,” Demuth said. “They are an expression of our city’s uniqueness and its living history.”
Ross Martens, co-owner of Alley Gallery, told The Daily that a petition opposing the tower and its location addressed to City Council had been circulated on change.org. As of publication, the petition had over 2,500 signatures, including people from outside Evanston.
Craig Smith, a board member of Northlight Theatre, told The Daily he is not sure why there was so much hostility towards the development, since he thought it would be a positive for the city.
“It brings life. It brings people downtown,” he said. “I think we have over 50,000 visitors a year, so that’ll be over 50,000 people coming downtown to share and going to restaurants and bars.”
After the meeting, Martens said he felt uncertain about the committee’s decision.
“We always have an uncertain future because we own a small business,” he said. “But this is scarier and more permanent.”
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