The climbing wall could join the Evanston theater “rightized”

EVANSTON, IL — The developer contracted to buy Church Street Plaza plans to bring a dozen new businesses to downtown Evanston by subdividing and leasing vacant space in the three-building commercial development.

As part of the plan, Evanston’s only commercial cinema is set to reopen as early as the holiday season – under new management and with fewer screens.

According to the developer, six screens from the theater formerly known as Century 12 Evanston/CineArts 6 will be separated and combined with some of the space recently vacated by an Urban Outfitters store.

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“We will have a beautiful open space for a different user,” said Mitch Goltz, co-founder and director of GW Properties. “We are working with several climbing companies and other leisure/entertainment concepts to take on this newly created space.”

Among the interested climbing businesses is First Ascent, which was due to open in the James Park Recycling Center as part of the site’s latest aborted development proposal.

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Goltz, of Glencoe, told Patch that the sale of the property should be completed by the end of November and that the theater operator who has committed to taking it over plans to have it operational as soon as possible before undertake serious improvements or renovations.

“People want to go back to the theater,” he said. “So they want to open first, and then over time they can make whatever changes they want to individual theaters.”

The theater has been closed since last year. Its former operator, Cinemark, terminated its lease because of a clause that allowed it to be terminated if a government made it “unlawful to operate a cinema complex”.

A judge has found Governor JB Pritzker’s executive orders last year did just that after the site’s owner, San Francisco-based Stockbridge Capital Group, sued the theater chain in a case that was dismissed in June .

Related: Evanston Cinemark cinema closes after escaping lease

Stockbridge bought the property for $70 million in 2013 from local company Arthur Hill & Co., which developed the site in the 1990s after staging a grant agreement with the city, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. The price GW Properties has agreed to pay has not been made public, but it is expected to be significantly lower.

Evanston’s director of economic development, Paul Zalmezak, said reopening the theater was a top priority for his department. He said he believes plans to upgrade the theater and review experiential activities in vacant spaces are on the right track.

“I’m trying to make the point that we need to make sure we prioritize that, and I don’t think that’s hard to defend. It’s just making sure staff understand what’s going on and are assigned and make it a priority,” Zalmezak said.

“We need to get this mall back to full capacity, generate sales tax, get people excited again. People are really upset about the theater being closed, I think it’s really hurt the spirit of the community,” he said. he declared. . “I think it’s going to be a boost. I think people are going to feel good.”

With the Urban Outfitters theater and clothing store closed, Church Street Plaza is more than half vacant, according to a listing for the roughly 180,000-square-foot development by commercial real estate broker CBRE.

According to SEONorthwestern Medicine’s lease for nearly 17,400 square feet of the site currently extends through 2023, but the healthcare provider “has expressed a desire to expand its square footage by 4,046 square feet and extend its duration until 2033”.

Goltz said the movie theater space isn’t the only one he plans to subdivide to meet the demands of today’s retail market.

“The building itself has very good bones, and it’s a great property. I think COVID and other market elements have caused some of the vacancy at the center, and I think to properly bring that back to life it once had, spaces need to be reconfigured,” he added. “It takes a local retail expert and developer to better understand the needs of tenants today, how to best adapt the building to those users.”

The developer said there are currently 11 tenants in the buildings, with plans to expand to 20 when they are fully let next year. Goltz said seven of the new spaces are already booked with varying levels of engagement, including by restaurants, retail services and “other interesting and fun uses,” he said.

Recent changes to the city of Evanston’s code allow certain businesses to open after an accelerated procedure administrative review instead of a 60-75 day zoning review.

Zalmazek said opening new businesses in film and rock climbing would not require special use permits, although any business serving food would be subject to licensing and inspections by the health department and that any renovation would require planning permission. He said City of Patch staff stayed in close contact with brokers and buyers before the closing.

“We walked them through the City’s upcoming processes related to zoning reviews for new businesses and made sure they connected with the building department for permits and such,” he said. . “We also encouraged the future owner to consider ways to activate the property so that it is better integrated with the rest of the town centre.”

Goltz said reopening the theater and other parts of the project will improve the fortunes of all businesses in the area.

“I think it’s unfortunate for everyone involved and around the site to have the site in the condition it is in. So our goals are to bring life back to what it once was, and we think we can bring new elements that weren’t there before that will bring even more life and I think by scaling the theater to the appropriate number of screens in today’s market, it allows us to bring another anchor to draw the project into the community, like as a rock climbing or other entertainment-type use,” Goltz said.

“All of these tenants will be able to feed off each other,” the developer added, “because being near a theater brings people to your doorsteps who might not otherwise be there.”

Virginia F. Goins