Midsize Theater Watch: Committee Without a Consensus
After announcing it would decide on a site for a new midsize theater for nine music and dance organizations by the end of this month, the Music and Dance Advisory Committee met last week and--naturally--decided it could not decide between sites at Navy Pier and Cityfront Center. "They are in love with the process of deciding," observed one astute but exasperated source with an interest in the outcome. The committee's plan now is to meet in another 30 days to see what happens. According to sources present, last week's meeting raised more troubling questions than it answered, and one key participant even wondered whether the new theater will ever be built.
The longer this secret committee of 20 or so philanthropic do-gooders deliberates (all have been sworn to keep quiet about the process), the more it seems to back itself into a corner where no decision is possible. Though the Navy Pier site comes with a lower price tag, it apparently does not appeal to a number of people on the advisory committee who argue that the pier might turn into a wasteland once it reopens, leaving the new theater stranded in the middle of an unsuccessful development. A theater at Cityfront Center could cost more, because the land has to be purchased, but some committee members maintain that Cityfront Center will be well-developed and accessible and therefore the preferable choice. According to one source, a straw vote at the meeting indicated a narrow majority of the committee preferred the Navy Pier site, but a formal vote was not taken when it became apparent there was no strong consensus.
Linked to the site-selection decision and looming heavily over the whole project is the matter of where to find the money to build the theater. One source said that if the project moves forward a "substantial" amount will have to be raised above and beyond the seed money contributed by the seven philanthropic foundations involved in the project. This source is genuinely concerned about whether millions of dollars can be raised in the present economic climate, no matter how vital the project. So as things now stand, the music and dance organizations that have been kept out of these crucial deliberations will have to hurry up and wait with the rest of us to see what happens next.
Nibbles at the Chicago Theatre
Don't be surprised if the New York-based Nederlander Organization rears its head as a prime contender to operate the Chicago Theatre should the city win its foreclosure suit against Chicago Theatre Restoration Associates, the investor consortium that bought and renovated the 3,700-seat former movie palace with a $13-million loan from the city. A well-placed Nederlander source confirmed that the giant entertainment organization, which owns and operates a number of theaters in New York City and elsewhere, is interested in the venue. Recently Nederlander's presence, in and around Chicago has grown significantly. The organization owns and operates the Shubert Theatre and also books the China Club, though the source indicated acts have been slow to warm up to it. Nederlander runs Poplar Creek Music Theatre in suburban Hoffman Estates, and last week it also took control of the financially troubled Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. With its vast experience in both the concert and live theater businesses, Nederlander could make the Chicago Theatre a viable venue. But nothing can happen until the city succeeds in wresting control of the theater from CTRA. The city and CTRA are scheduled to meet in court in early March.
Ballet Chicago's Advertising Deal
Does it help to have friends in high places? You bet. Ballet afficionados may have noted that Ballet Chicago, the city's far-from-flush hometown ballet company, has been running an aggressive advertising campaign in the Tribune for its tribute to George Balanchine this weekend at the Civic Opera House. But the ads cost Ballet Chicago much less than they might have. "We paid for the first half of the run, and the newspaper covered the rest," says a source at the company of the campaign that started before Christmas. Had Ballet Chicago paid for all the space, like most arts organizations advertising in the Tribune, one source familiar with the arrangement estimated the campaign would have cost as much as $100,000. The Tribune's director of promotions and public relations, Rich Honack, says that in return for the advertising Ballet Chicago is contractually obligated to give a portion of the engagement's profits to Chicago Tribune Charities. That is, of course, assuming there is a profit. A well-informed source at Ballet Chicago says Joseph Hays, a member of the company's board of directors and a long-standing executive with the Tribune Company was instrumental in setting up the deal, though Honack denies Hays's involvement. But the paper's largesse apparently did not extend so far as finding an advertising department copy checker smart enough to catch a glaring typo in the ad, still running as recently as last Sunday. It prominently notes that the ballet troupe will be "beautifully acconpanied by full orchestra."
Art on the Block
Earlier this month art dealer Alan Kass of Kass/Meridian Gallery packed upward of 200 people into his space at 215 W. Superior for a Sunday afternoon auction of more than 125 works of art, followed by dinner at the Eccentric. Though some dealers worry that auctions could undermine their efforts to sell art at established market prices, Kass maintains they are good for business in the River North district, which is slowly working its way out of a severe slump. Kass is planning another auction for this Saturday. "I have found that many of the people who attend an auction wouldn't have come into my gallery any other way," explains Kass. "I look at this as an important way of developing a clientele." While he admires Kass's efforts, David Leonardis of David Leonardis Gallery notes the practice has a downside. He says, "An auction gives art buyers a chance to buy art at below market price and that ultimately could bring down the market value of some artists."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.