Arts community seeks greater role on Noyes
The City is in negotiations with the tenants of the Noyes Cultural Arts Center over how the tenants might take part in the upkeep of the city-owned building, and what role an expanded Piven Theatre Workshop will play. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 7:17AM
EVANSTON — Some members of the arts community are seeking a greater role in negotiations between the city and Piven Theatre Workshop on plans to give the theater company expanded space inside a city-owned building.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told a city committee Monday that officials remain in negotiations with Piven on the group’s plan to expand it’s space inside the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, a former school building at 927 Noyes St.
“We have been a little stalled trying to get a final footprint in a deal that makes sense for the Piven Theatre Workshop and that makes sense for the city of Evanston,” he told members of the City Council’s Human Services Committee Monday night.
The Evanston City Council backed a plan nearly a year ago authorizing the city manager to continue negotiations with Piven on a long-term lease of space at the building, which houses a number of arts groups and individual artists.
Under the proposal, Piven would consolidate its existing space – spread throughout the building – to one area on all floors.
Piven officials would extensively renovate the area with new classrooms, rehearsal space, offices and a new theater.
The proposal calls for the cost of the project – pegged anywhere between $2.5 and $5 million – to be covered through a fundraising campaign by Piven, as well as loan from the city, to be paid back over time.
Piven explored moving out of Noyes last year because of the building’s limitations. That’s when Bobkiewicz initiated negotiations with the nationally renown company with 40-year roots in Evanston.
City officials were also looking for a new model for operating the center, which included asking tenants, some paying below market rates, to take a greater role in the building’s upkeep.
Arts groups have raised concern about the focus on one tenant at Noyes and also have raised questions about how the agreement would affect the center’s mission to serve the city’s artistic community at large.
In committee discussion Monday night, Alderman Judy Fiske, in whose First Ward the center is located, raised concern that tenants “are not given a backseat to the discussions going on with Piven.”
Bobkiewicz said he has had several meetings with the group representing tenants, including one last month, and is aware of the concerns.
He said the lack of a final footprint appears to be “the point of most concern” for tenants. He said tenants have also raised concerns about access to the building during construction and other issues.
Ironically, some of the concerns have been allayed, because off the departure of a major Noyes tenant, the Ken Arlen Orchestra.
Bobkiewicz said that Arlen, a major tenant’s departure should make the process easier, freeing up space for Piven’s planned improvements.
Bobkiewicz said what he has committed to tenants groups is that “once we have a final deal in place that it will come to them before it comes to you, so they will have some time to adjust to it.”
Maggie Weiss, a spokesperson for the tenants in the building, said tenants are concerned that nothing has been put on paper on another pledge by the city manager – that any tenants displaced would be accommodated through relocation, said Maggie Weiss, a spokesperson for the tenants.
“That has not been put on paper which is why people are anxious,’’ she said.
Weiss said the tenants’ place in shaping any plan has also been frustrating. She said the group submitted one, along with plans proposed by the city and Piven last year, but that Piven officials said they were not interested in tenant’s proposal.
“That was disappointing to me,” Weiss said. “... How could we figure out how to work together if one you’re going to have one uber tenant occupying half of the building?”
Evanston Arts Council member Greg Allen said the issue ultimately affects the arts community in general.
With “a lot of money and a big commitment to the theater, I think there needs to be some more assessment of (Piven’s) financial abilities, their artistic abilities, just in terms of transparency. It seems this is something that should go through the community in some fashion,’’ he said.
Leslie Brown, Piven’s executive director, when asked about tenants’ plan Tuesday, said Piven officials questioned what tenants referred to as their “self sustainability” model for the building because some of the line items in it, such as for snow and trash removal, didn’t carry cost figures.
“We at Piven asked if there were ways to drill down on the model to see if the self-sustaining model does reflect Noyes being profitable,’’ she said.
She said the Piven proposal “is not about taking more space,’’ and renovation of the building.
Rather, “Piven as an organization in this community for 42 years wants to partner with the city to revitalize this building, to invest longterm and really support the overall arts community in Evanston.”