By a 7-2 vote on Feb. 12, City Council approved a nearly $1.4 million construction contract for a theater on Howard Street. The new building, when completed, will serve as the home for Theo Ubique, a cabaret theater group currently operating out of a space on Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park.
The move is the latest step in a years-long effort spearheaded by Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, to revitalize Howard Street. She has long stated that getting a theater will be an anchor for economic development in the area.
The theater follows on the heels of Peckish Pig’s recent exercise of its option to purchase the formerly City-owned building it occupies. Ward 8, a cocktail lounge and restaurant, exercised a similar option more than a year ago, purchasing its building. And in just a few days, Café Coralie will open its South Evanston restaurant in the space that formerly housed the Howard Street Evanston Police Department outpost, another City-owned building. North Shore Cider company opened last year in the same area.
Also on the Feb. 12 agenda was the approval of the liquor license for Good to Go Jamaican restaurant, which bought a building on Howard Street and will soon move its restaurant from the Chicago side of the street over to Evanston.
For years, said Ald. Rainey, “Howard Street was a dumping ground … Now that’s changing.” She urged Council to vote for the theater construction expense.
“Let’s clear the air,” said Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward. “I don’t hate Howard Street. [But] I do represent more than just myself, and I have heard from constituents concerned about spending.” She said she could not support the expenditure.
Funding will come from the Howard Ridge TIF, a tax-increment financing district that runs along the north side of Howard Street from the Chicago-Evanston border at the CTA redline tracks to Ridge Avenue. The district was formed by ordinance in 2004 as part of the 415 Howard project. Any property tax collected as a result of an increase in property taxes remains in the TIF fund and can be spent only in the TIF district. Until recently, the 415 Howard building received a portion of the increment as part of its negotiated agreement with the City, but that deal is expiring, and the TIF will be funded soon, Ald. Rainey said.
“This money can’t be spent anywhere else,” said Ald. Rainey.
At the Administration and Public Works Committee held earlier that evening, questions were raised about the cost of the project – in this case, the accepted bid being too low. “I’m concerned about this company [Structures Construction] because there have been so many change orders on their current project,” the Dempster Street beach office, said Ald. Fleming. She said she did not want the City to have “to go down that road again.”
The City’s Capital Planning Bureau Chief said first that the City received nine bids and a $400,000 spread between high and low, a gap she said was not surprising. She also said the Dempster Street project ran into legitimate unforeseen conditions, such as missing bricks where a structural post was expected to be, a sagging roof, and other issues.
The nearly $1.4 million will build the structure only – Theo Ubique “is paying for everything theater related,” said Ald. Rainey, including all personal property, furniture, and “everything that makes it a theater.”
At committee, Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, also expressed concerns about future change orders and the overall cost of the project, joining Ald. Fleming in voting no. The matter passed out of committee on a 2-2 vote, but at full Council no one joined Alds. Suffredin and Fleming, and the measure passed 7-2. Construction may begin shortly.