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City seeks promise for back rent from theater company

Wesley Daniel is seen here in a 2013 production of
Wesley Daniel is seen here in a 2013 production of "Iphegenia 2.0" with Next Theatre Company. Evanston officials want the company to promise to pay back more than $76,000 in back rent. | Provided photo
Bob Seidenberg
bseidenberg@pioneerlocal.com | @evanstonscribe
July 8 10:16 a.m.

Evanston is addressing Next Theatre Company’s continued tenancy at the city’s Noyes Cultural Arts Center, requiring the company to post a promissory debt for the $76,345 in back rent it owes the city.

Meanwhile, members of the City Council’s Human Services Committee backed a staff recommendation to extend the theater company’s lease May 31 of next year.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told aldermen that it was important to give Next an additional year at the center despite the late rent, which dates back two years.

“If this were a business, I would not be recommending you do this,” he said. “But this is not a business. We’re a municipal government.

“I think it’s prudent [the year lease] given the important role Next Theatre has played in the community – the people that they bring in.”

Pressing for eviction now “would severely jeopardize” Next from remaining in existence,” he said, noting the unlikelihood of attracting another theater company to the spot this season. He doesn’t feel, however, the city will have a problem attracting another user after that.

In the city’s first public comments on the issue, Bobkiewicz said Next Theatre, while at the forefront of cutting-edge productions over the years, has also seen its ups and downs financially.

He said the company dropped behind one previous time during his five years as city manager. Officials had been able work an agreement with Next to have the company repay past due rent, and the company was able to do so.

He said the current down period started about two years ago.

“We had hoped to work with them in similar fashion, so when good times came again,” the company would again be able to become whole financially, he said. “Unfortunately in our estimation it’s clear this has been different circumstances. The operations of the theater have been challenged. We have tried to resolve those, but it’s clear to us that may not be possible at this time.”

Aldermen supported the proposal, while expressing disappointment at the potential loss.

“I just hate the idea when we’re looking at the idea of [creating] a downtown performing arts district to be losing a theatre company,” said Alderman Judy Fiske, in whose First Ward Noyes is located. “It works against the initiatives we’re trying to put in place.”

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