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Piven’s plan for Noyes advances

Leslie Brown executive director Piven Theatre Workshop. At city's offer Piven wanted take lead role renovatiNoyes Cultural Arts Center where

Leslie Brown, executive director of the Piven Theatre Workshop. At the city's offer, Piven wanted to take a lead role in the renovation of the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, where Piven and other arts organizations are housed. | File

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Updated: June 3, 2013 2:49PM



EVANSTON— Leslie Brown, executive director of the Piven Theatre Workshop, was walking through the city-run Noyes Cultural Arts Center with a supporter who couldn’t help take note of the building’s condition.

Brown and Jennifer Green, the workshop theatrical director, work out of 200-square foot office; any flushing in the building reminds them the space used to house the former school building’s boys bathroom.

Debris sometimes rains through the ceiling. Tiles are covered with black tape in a kind of makeshift asbestos abatement plan launched sometime in Noyes’ past.

“Wow, this building is really a poor, neglected step child,” commented Brown’s visitor. “It’s not a building that the looks like the city has invested in it.”

Piven Theatre officials are hoping to reverse that trend in a proposal scheduled for its first hearing before the City Council’s Human Services Committee at 7 p.m. Monday at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

The Piven group, whose alumni include actors Jeremy Piven and John and Joan Cusack, took up the city’s offer to draw up a plan for improvement of its space in the building, at 927 Noyes, which houses some of the city’s best known arts organizations.

Under the proposal, the city would loan Piven $2.2 million; Piven would pay back $1.6 million in cash and provide pro bono services (such as the free architectural renderings and contractor walk-throughs, which have already taken place.

Brown recently answered some questions about the proposed renovation agreement, the terms of which the city published last week at cityofevanston.org.

Q. What does the renovation project entail?

A. Right now we have two classrooms and a theater we use consistently as classroom space as well. This would expand the workshop space on the first floor and the second floor and it calls for going through the ceiling of the theatre to expand upwards for a proper black box theater.

We are also installing a new HVAC and electrical system. Right now the building draws on one electrical system, which is why we constantly suffer from blackouts and brownouts throughout the building.

The entire building has suffered from deferred maintenance. I believe the last time there was any renovation in the building was in the 1980s, because the roof was decaying.

Q. What brought Piven to the point of moving ahead on the project?

A. We were told a couple of years ago the city would not be making any investments in the building, that we probably had about five years before the building fell into even further decay. ... We could stay or we could go or we could create some other possibilities. When we said we were going to move out the city asked us to submit a proposal so we did.

Q. What about the terms of the proposal?

A. We’re asking the city for $2.2 million, then we come to the table with $1.6 million in cash and pro bono services. The benefit of this kind of public-private partnership is that we bring a tremendous amount of resources to the table, (people) who are willing to work for free with the city to solve the problem of a decaying building.

Q. What about the up to 50-year lease, at $1 a year. Is that unusual?

A. No not at all. Looking Glass Theatre (in Chicago) enjoys a dollar-a-year rent so they can revitalize the building they’re in. In fact, the city bought the Noyes Cultural Arts Center for $1 from District 65. (Such agreements) are one of the best ways for us to invest in the building and improve the building for the community.

Q. How will the community benefit?

A. If you talk to the business owners along Noyes Street, when there is nothing going on in the building, there aren’t people coming to their businesses. Bring more people in the business and more people will start to utilize the businesses along Noyes Street. You only have to look at Lincoln Square and what the Olde Town School of Music has, and North and Clyborn and look (what’s been done) to revitalize those areas.

Q. Piven has taken sharp criticism from some tenants who say the focus of the project goes against the mission of the center as a place for all arts.

A. If the proposal goes through and Piven expands, the visual arts ratio to performing arts building is going to be two to one. There will be about 17 visual arts (groups) in the building and about nine performing arts, so there won’t be an imbalance there.

Q. What about the criticism?

A. To be cut down so brutally in many ways is difficult, but there is a lot of support for this plan from people who believe we’ve got to put some kind of infusion of dollars and energy into making our facilities better.~.



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