THE LOOP — Most invitations into a dark alley should be declined.
But the Chicago Loop Alliance hopes to lure Chicagoans and visitors into Couch Place Alley Thursday night for a free, trial-run "placemaking event" from 5-10 p.m.
If it's a success — measured by "how many people come, and the time that they had: good or bad, fun or not fun," according to Loop Alliance Executive Director Michael Edwards — the agency will consider future, semi-permanent programming in State Street's most traversed service alley.
"It would probably not be a permanent place, because it's a working alley, but a place that we could celebrate the Loop periodically throughout the year," Edwards said, suggesting pop-up art galleries and other events that could use the alley "to celebrate art, music, fashion, design and technology."
Complimentary beer and wine will be served at the ACTIVATE event Thursday, which will feature LED-backlit bricks, an art exhibition with tunes provided by DJs, a fashion show from House of Frog complete with stilt-walkers and jugglers, and Victorian-era parlor games with tokens redeemable for prizes.
Couch Place Alley has a storied history that began in the mid-1800s. It was named for Ira and James Couch, two brothers who owned the Tremont Hotel at Lake and Dearborn streets from 1850 to 1871. In 1903 it was the site of one of the worst single-building fires in American history, at the then-adjacent Iroquois Theatre.
The fire killed more than 600 people and prompted suspicions that the alley was haunted.
In 2007, the city made "a major investment," according to Edwards, in rebuilding Couch Place into "Chicago's Greenest Alley." New light fixtures made from recycled aluminum were installed, along with permeable cobblestones that allow water to soak into the ground instead of running off into storm sewers.
The Loop Alliance is charged with optimizing the experience of State Street's visitors, and earlier this year it announced a five-year plan to be developed in tandem with Choose Chicago's tourism expansion efforts.