Northlight Theatre is excited to announce that it has reached a significant milestone in its years-long pursuit of building a theatre center in Evanston with the purchase of property located at 1012-16 Church Street in downtown Evanston.
“This is a breakthrough moment in the 45-year history of Northlight. We have long sought a home of our own and the acquisition of the Church Street property allows Northlight to pursue its bold vision of building a world-class theatre complex in downtown Evanston, the vibrant and diverse community where we began,” explained Executive Director Timothy J. Evans. “This future theater, education, and community complex will be a major component in the arts and cultural scene in Chicagoland and the North Shore, and will for decades bring artists, audiences, students, and community members together to experience compassionate and compelling art, entertainment, and theater education.”
The 21,400-square-foot property will house the site of a three-story 38,000-square-foot state-of-the-art theater and community complex incorporating a 300-seat main stage theater, rehearsal hall, spacious community lobby, a glass-cubed rooftop “sky room” and roof deck for use as a daytime education center and nighttime event space, several lobby lounges and concession areas, theater support spaces, on-site box office, and offices for Northlight staff.
Artistic Director BJ Jones comments, “I read a definition of ‘home’ once that said it was ‘a happy place where one can live, laugh, and learn; somewhere where you are loved, respected, and cared for.’ I’d like to think that Northlight will find in its return to Evanston just that—a place where we can share, through our development of new work, a common conversation and a safe space. A home, where we find love, respect, and care.”
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss adds, “Northlight in downtown Evanston will be the destination driver we need. It will attract people to our community who are not only from Evanston but also from Chicago and the North Shore; people who will spend money in our local restaurants and shops before and after attending a performance. Northlight will also serve as a cultural hub and be accessible to the entire community including our youth who will be able to experience professional theatre and participate in enriching theatre arts education.”
The property acquisition supports Northlight’s goal of opening a new theater complex by the fall of 2024. Today Evanston, like so many cities across the country, has suffered deep losses of retail businesses, offices, restaurants, movie complexes, and hotels. Northlight Theatre in downtown Evanston will accelerate the city’s economic recovery by acting as a major destination driver for the downtown district.
The new downtown theatre complex will have close access to public transportation (CTA and Metra); multiple downtown parking garages just steps away; numerous neighborhood restaurants, bars, and shops for its patrons and artists; nearby hotels for weekend stays; and close access to Northwestern University students, professors, and visitors. The Barn, a prestigious restaurant run by award-winning restaurateur Amy Morton, will remain on the property and function as a quality dining option for Northlight patrons.
With the purchase of the Church Street property, Northlight immediately begins the next steps of its new relocation initiative. The total project budget is still in development due to fluctuating post-pandemic building costs, but it is estimated to be between $20 to $25 million, to be paid through a combination of private philanthropy and other sources. The project is currently moving through overlapping planning/design programs, fundraising, and construction phases.
Northlight received city approval of its planned development for the Church Street site. The property at 1012-16 Church Street was purchased from Fairway Evanston LLC by Northlight Theatre, paid for through individual donor sources without bank or other institutional financing.
The new building’s design team includes architect Craig Smith of Eckenhoff Saunders, theatre planner Todd Hensley of Schuler Shook, and acoustic designer Joseph Myers of Kirkegaard Associates.
Founded as the Evanston Theatre Company in 1974, Northlight has been producing award-winning theater for the past two decades in its current leased home in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, where it has grown its subscriber and patron base to serve nearly 50,000 audience members each year. Northlight will continue to produce a five-play season at the Skokie location for the next few years, starting in September with its first post-pandemic production, Songs for Nobodies.
“The expanded mission of the new Northlight will reflect the changing definition of how a cultural institution should interact and support the community,” said Board President Mark McCarville. “The welcoming new complex will act as a physical ‘public square’ for inclusive community gatherings and diverse conversations and events.”
The new Northlight aspires to be a cultural catalyst and hub for the whole Evanston/North Shore community through daytime events including topical presentations and lectures, town hall meetings, local community speakers, and art exhibits. Additional evening programming goals include guest theatre productions, concerts, film festivals, and readings by nationally-renowned authors.
Northlight’s thriving education programs engage thousands of students per year in many schools including Evanston Township High School, schools in District 65, and Chicago Public Schools. Northlight’s existing community partnerships include Y.O.U., YWCA Evanston/North Shore, Family Focus, Evanston Scholars, McGaw YMCA, Youth Job Center, Levy Senior Center, and CJE. Northlight’s customized arts-related programs are designed to advance the mission of each social service organization, while the Arts for Everyone program provides free tickets to participants at all partnership organizations, expanding theatre accessibility to a broader, more diverse audience without the barrier of ticket cost.
Karen T. Demorest, Executive Director of Youth Job Center, one of Northlight’s Community Partners, notes, “At Youth Job Center, we are very excited for Northlight Theatre to be just down the street from us! We have been fortunate to partner with them for several years, bringing exceptional support to our young people in building skills in interviewing, learning how to resolve conflict, and ultimately being successful on the job. Having Northlight Theatre in Evanston will only deepen our strong partnership and make it easier for our clients and our community to learn, grow, and embrace the joy of theatre.”
Karen Singer, President and CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore adds, “Northlight Theatre has served as a valuable and productive community partner with YWCA Evanston/North Shore for years. Northlight has given the women with whom we work an opportunity for creative expression as they heal from trauma and abuse. Northlight has enabled them to safely explore their own experiences and be nurtured and supported. We are so grateful to have Northlight in our community and look forward to an even closer relationship when they have a home in Evanston.”
Evanston Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak comments, “Northlight’s move to Evanston is a beacon of economic hope to the downtown district. We will have this nationally respected professional theatre which is going to bring hundreds of visitors and artists every day and night to dine and shop. It will be a great cornerstone of our economic recovery and future sustainability.”
Northlight will serve as an economic driver for downtown Evanston. In the first five years of operation in the new location, it is estimated that Northlight patrons will generate $56 million in new spending in Evanston and over $450,000 in tax revenue—a much needed boost to the economic redevelopment of the city.
Northlight Theatre aspires to promote change of perspective and encourage compassion by exploring the depth of our humanity across a bold spectrum of theatrical experiences, reflecting our community to the world and the world to our community.
Northlight Theatre’s leadership team includes: Timothy Evans, Executive Director; BJ Jones, Artistic Director; Mark McCarville, President, Board of Trustees; J. Douglas Gray, Chair, Board of Trustees; Janet Mullet, Managing Director; Kim Hoopingarner, Director of Advancement; Mara Mihlfried, Director of Marketing & Communications; Lisa Stern, Director of Finance; Christina Lepri, Director of Education & Community Engagement; Emily Kneer, Production Manager.
For information and updates about the building and Northlight’s Next Act, visit: northlightsnextact.org