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Northlight Theatre’s plans for Evanston location have been scrapped

A rendering of the proposed Northlight Theatre's new Evanston complex. | COURTESY SKIDMORE, OWINGS & MERRILL

Northlight Theatre announced Thursday that plans for a proposed new theater/mixed-use development project for the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue in Evanston have been cancelled.

The announcement, made in conjunction with Farpoint Development and McLaurin Development, was made via statement in which the parties admitted the proposed project ultimately faced too much opposition from the community. The proposed project’s site would involve displacing nine businesses and nearly 20 small offices. The statement read, in part:

“After numerous town hall and community meetings in the last year, Northlight has heard time and again the vast majority of residents express great enthusiasm for the theatre’s return to Evanston. We also have heard support for our relocation from aldermen. Our intention, with the developers and architects, was always to listen to the community to better understand the issues surrounding the proposed site before we entered into the formal review process with the city. We have heard both support – and concerns – for the proposed project. After discussions amongst Northlight, Farpoint and McLaurin, we now feel that to move forward, given that the site has become a source of contention, would serve to perpetuate a divisive issue for city leaders and residents in a time of continuing debate about the vision and future of downtown Evanston.”

Last September, Northlight, which currently makes its home at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, announced its vision plans for the downtown Evanston glassy tower, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which would feature 152 rental apartments, 153 hotel rooms, parking, restaurant space, and a new home for the theater, including a 350-seat main stage and 100-seat second performance venue.

“It was a combination of several factors including residents’ concerns about displacing the businesses, concern over a modern, glass, Skidmore-ish building, and the height of the building, which had yet to be determined though it was estimated to be in the upper 20- to 30-floor range,” said Northlight’s managing director Tim Evans, when reached by phone late Thursday. “The developers saw a viable opportunity to create a real economic growth engine with an arts center, boutique hotel, gourmet restaurant, and that was ultimately too much for some folks. … And even though we hadn’t formally gone through the official proposal process [with the city of Evanston], I just felt it was not a battle we wanted to enter into because that is not our style.”

Evans said the theater company, which has a lease through the summer of 2021 in its Skokie location, is pursuing other Evanston site options, and other cities.

“We don’t have a lot of time to get some traction here,” Evans said. “So we’re working with the city to consider other logical Evanston spaces. We also have real estate agents looking for [sites] in Chicago, Wilmette, parts near our current location because we don’t want to stray too far from where we are.”

Evans said a “clear path” would have to come forth in the next 18 months for a move to take place. “If nothing presents itself in that time, we’ll have to decide what we’re doing in terms of staying [in Skokie.]”