UPTOWN — A developer plans to buy the former Jane Addams Hull House community center in Uptown and convert it into market-rate apartments — and displace the Pegasus Players theater group that has been a community staple for 27 years.
The Hull House Association, founded in 1889, filed for bankruptcy last year and ceased operations across Chicago, including in Uptown at 4520 N. Beacon St. The Pegasus Players stayed in a theater in the basement even after the social service agency left, and the troupe was paying rent and running productions in the foreclosed building — but the theater company could be homeless soon.
DLG Management President Dave Gassman said he is in the process of buying the Beacon Street property out of foreclosure for $1.1 million and spending at least $3 million to redevelop it into a 24-unit apartment building. Gassman expects to close on the building Thursday, he said.
Asked Tuesday if Pegasus would have to find a new home if he bought the building, Gassman said, "Of course they would," adding that the theater group's lease ends in the fall.
Pegasus Artistic Director Ilesa Duncan said the troupe is trying to appeal to Gassman to let it stay so it can "continue to do the work that Pegasus has been doing for over 27 years in Uptown.
"We are hoping that he will consider leaving the theater in the building … to tear down this theater is just a crime," Duncan said.
The Pegasus Players are known for affordable, socially conscious productions and are behind the annual Young Playwrights Festival that brings plays written by Chicago youths to the stage. The troupe moved to the Hull House community center in 2010 after departing from Truman College's O'Rourke Theatre.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan for a bolstered Uptown entertainment district would be diminished if the theater group can't stay in Uptown, because "part of an entertainment district is really what art means to a community," Duncan said, echoing comments from another Uptown artist who said the city needs to support a culture of arts in Uptown, not just bring new venues to the area.
Duncan said the developer listened to Pegasus Players' pleas to stay on Beacon, but that she was unsure if it would affect his plan.
Gassman did not mention the theater's fate during his project presentation at the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee meeting on Monday. But he said Tuesday that the building went into foreclosure in the first place because the nonprofit Hull House could not afford to stay there, and that if the Pegasus Players wanted to stay there they should have found a way to buy the space before he did.
"Things cost money, and if you can't pay for them that's basically what happens," Gassman said.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said after the meeting Monday,"If the sale goes through, then the Pegasus Players will have to speak to the new owner and work that out."
Cappleman and the Beacon Block Club have already voiced their support for Gassman's project.
Tressa Feher, Cappleman's chief of staff, said the change "has already been approved by the community," because the area block club supports the zoning change, and because the project is under $10 million, per 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee rules.
Beacon Block Club President Dustin Fogle said the apartment complex is "a great plan," despite criticism from some people in the neighborhood who find symbolism in market-rate apartments replacing Hull House, a famous social service agency.
"I think the normal people that are going to be raising a stink are going to be raising a stink regardless," Fogle said, adding that, "nobody on Beacon has raised a concern."
Uptown resident Andrew Shantz is not pleased or surprised by news that the former community center and current theater could be converted to market-rate apartments.
"My immediate sentiment is that it should have been expected and would be another appropriate symbol for Cappleman’s conservative free market agenda like the old Salvation Army building being bought by FLATS [Chicago]," Shantz said.
The former Hull House community center had served Uptown for more than four decades before closing last year. The social service agency offered domestic violence counseling, preschool, afterschool programs, ESL classes and a small business development center.
The organization, one of the best-known social welfare institutions in the country, was co-founded by Jane Addams, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and one of the most influential social reformers in American history.