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The city of Evanston, Next Theatre's landlord for more than three decades at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, is planning to boot the company after one more season for failure to pay its rent.
Evanston says Next hasn't been up to date on payments for "more than two years," has paid nothing during the first five months of 2014, and has racked up a total debt to the city of $76,345.
Here's the surprising part: the problem came as news to the Next's board of directors. Board chair Robert Andalman says the board didn't know the rent wasn't being paid until "the last month or two."
How could that happen?
"A lack of communication" and some data-entry errors in accounting, Andalman said in a phone interview this week.
Former managing director Jon Arndt voluntarily resigned at the end of May, about the time the board learned of the problem, Andalman said. (Arndt did not respond to attempts to reach him for this story.) A new managing director was recently hired.
Like a lot of small arts organizations, Next has had its ups and downs and had already been carrying some debt, Andalman added, though he declined to specify how much.
"This last season was particularly difficult. We had shows running when it was double digits below zero," he said. Next produces a three-show season, and has an annual budget of about $400,000. "I wish that we'd known a year ago, because there would have been a lot more that we could have done with a $35,000 debt than with a $76,000 debt," Andalman noted. "At this point our focus is on keeping the institution alive."
The city staff is proposing a five-year repayment plan and a new lease that'll run through the 2014-2015 season, at which time Next will have to get out.
On Monday night, Evanston's Human Services Committee unanimously, but unhappily, voted to send those recommendations on to the city council. They'll apparently be on the agenda at the council's July 14 meeting.
If Next has to move, it'll look for a black-box space in Evanston, perhaps to share with another company, Andalman said. "If the space is more artistically flexible and less expensive, that could be an overall good thing."
So maybe Next is resigned to this outcome. Neither Andalman nor anyone else from the theater showed up for the committee meeting, which had members including Sixth Ward alderman Mark Tendam wondering aloud, "Where is the board?"
"Why aren't they here tonight?" Tendam asked. "What about their fiduciary responsibility? I'm calling on that board of directors to make a move."
And to be there when the city council meets on July 14. "Because," as First Ward alderman Judy Fiske put it, "Now I'm hugely concerned."