WEST LOOP — The Chicago Children's Theatre will get $5 million from the state to help renovate and move into an empty former police station building on the Near West Side.
Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to announce the state grant at a fundraising gala for children's theater Saturday night, a theater spokesman said. The Chicago Children's Theatre first announced plans to move into the former Near West District police station, 100 S. Racine Ave., in August.
In a press release Saturday, Quinn said that the $5 million grant will help the "beloved organization continue to reach young people and help them foster a passion for the arts."
“A permanent home will ensure hundreds of children and families around the city and state have the opportunity to learn, perform and develop their talents on stage," Quinn said.
Started in 2005, the Chicago Children’s Theatre is now based out of Wicker Park, where it has administrative offices at 1464 N. Milwaukee Ave., but no permanent home for the theater. The company partners with theaters including Redmoon, the Goodman and the Ruth Page Center for the Arts to host performances.
The children's theater does not officially own the former police station property yet. The theater is currently negotiating with the city to acquire the old police station property.
The multi-million dollar state grant is expected to pay for a large chunk of the estimated $15 million project, children's theater spokesman Jay Kelly said Saturday. In addition to state funding, the nonprofit theater is also seeking city funding and private donations to fund the project's build out, Kelly said.
The children's theater proposal cleared the city's Community Development Commission on Oct. 14 and will next be considered by the city's Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards Dec. 9 and the full City Council Dec. 10, according to Kelly.
Plans call for the former police station to house a 299-seat main stage auditorium, a 149-seat studio performance space, classrooms and administrative space, according to Quinn's office.
The children's theater proposal did receive some opposition from the neighborhood. In October, community group Neighbors of the West Loop came out against the children's theater plan, saying that they would rather see a community center of library developed at the site. The group also had concerns about the traffic the project will bring to the neighborhood.
But a vast majority of neighbors do support the project, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said this week, including the West Loop Community Organization and West Central Association Chamber of Commerce.
Burnett said that he supports the arts and believes that the theater will bring business to the neighborhood's restaurants and retail shops.
The Chicago Park District previously turned down the old police station property.
The state grant will help the children's theater establish a permanent new home in the West Loop, while welcoming children and families from Chicago, the state and from around the world, said Jacqueline Russell, theater co-founder and artistic director. The theater works with more than 100 Chicago schools, and have a have a special commitment to serving children on the autism spectrum, according to a press release.
The children's theater project will be funded through an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) grant.
The Near West District police moved into a new station at 1412 S. Blue Island Ave. at the end of 2012. The site has been used by the NBC television show "Chicago Fire" for filming.
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