CSO Eyes Borg-Warner Building

Plans to build a new performing arts center for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera died a slow death last year. Now the CSO is studying the feasibility of a new project: buying the Borg-Warner building next to Orchestra Hall, demolishing it, and building a new 1,000-seat recital hall, complete with cafe, shops, and office space.

As news of the proposal made its way around town–both the Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business reported on it last week–the symphony’s top brass were touring Europe with the orchestra, safely removed from the initial flurry of discussion. But the board of directors must realize that, once again, they have many obstacles to overcome if their plan is to become a reality. The main obstacle is money. So far no one has said exactly where the funds will come from. Preliminary estimates put the cost of such a development at around $100 million; at least one board member is worried it could cost as much as $150 million. Presumably board members would be expected to cough up a sizable chunk of the money themselves, but sources didn’t indicate any such had been extracted from them. The CSO can’t necessarily assume funds that might have been available for a performing arts center would be transferrable to their expansion project.

Then there’s the matter of the Borg-Warner building’s availability for purchase. Marty Geraghty, an executive with Collins Tuttle & Company who’s in charge of writing leases in the building, says his bosses have told him to go on negotiating leases despite the CSO’s announced intention to buy the property. The building is 90 percent full now; by the time the CSO actually moves to acquire the building, there could be even more tenants that would have to be bought out of their leases. “We have seen the CSO’s overture,” adds Geraghty, “but there are still a few movements to come” before the deal is done.

Capitalizing Hauptmann

The New York opening of John Logan’s play Hauptmann has been postponed while the producers finish raising some $175,000 in investment capital. John Walker, managing director of Victory Gardens and a coproducer of the New York show, said the delay was due to the wariness of some potential New York investors who aren’t familiar with Logan or the play. The investment deal was initially structured so that three-fifths of the capital would be raised in Chicago and the rest in the Big Apple; now, Walker said, he and his partners are seeking more of the money in Chicago. The new opening date is May 27. Though the beginning of summer is traditionally a tough season for all but the frothiest of musicals, Walker thinks it has a good shot at success. It needs to fill only slightly more than half of the 180 seats in the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre to break even on a weekly basis.

Girls! Girls! Girls! Live in Anchorage

The west-coast premiere of Sharon Evans’s Girls! Girls! Girls! Live on Stage, Totally Rude, a hit in its world premiere at Live Bait Theater, didn’t happen in Los Angeles, as originally expected, but in the more conservative community of Anchorage, Alaska. Evans said she negotiated for months with a Los Angeles company that wanted to mount her bawdy play, about an art student who gets a job as a stripper to research blue-collar entertainment. But when that company demanded more ancillary rights than she was prepared to grant, Evans gave the Out North Theater Company in Anchorage permission to present the play instead. It was a struggle for the eight-year-old Anchorage company to produce Evans’s play. “We’re having censorship problems up here,” says Out North artistic director Gene Dugan, who had to battle both city officials and executives at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, where the show was mounted. He managed to appease many of the play’s detractors by putting a note in the advertising that said: “Maturity alert! If you’re not mature, you probably can’t handle this play.” In the end, Dugan said, some customers felt the play “didn’t go far enough.”

Can the Goodman Get the Garrick?

The Goodman Theatre’s plan to acquire two parcels of land adjacent to the Selwyn and Harris theater complex has been slowed by Henry Plitt’s reluctance to sell his property–the Garrick parking garage at 60 W. Randolph–at a price the Goodman finds acceptable. The Goodman wants to build a new administrative office and theater complex on the property, and a source close to the negotiations said Plitt, who once owned the Chicago-based movie-theater chain that bore his last name and now lives in southern California, has been unwilling to lower his price. But the source thinks Plitt’s resolve may be softening. Goodman board chairman Irving Markin seems to share that opinion. “We’ve made some progress,” said Markin, but he declined to speculate on the outcome.

Battle of the Art Expos

The battle between Art Chicago and the Chicago International Art Exposition is moving into high gear again this year. David and Lee Ann Lester, whose LA-based company International Fine Art Expositions also runs shows in Miami, Hong Kong, and LA, launched Art Chicago two years ago to compete with John Wilson’s Art Expo. They came to town last week to drum up interest in their third show, scheduled for May 14 through 18 at the Apparel Center. David Lester was quick to emphasize that he is lowering his admission price to $10 from $12, while Wilson has upped his to $15 from $12. Also, Lester will use BMWs (a sponsor of his show) instead of buses to ferry visitors between Art Chicago and Art Expo. Last year Wilson banned Art Chicago buses from stopping directly in front of the Art Expo entrance. The Lesters will have only 60 or so galleries participating in Art Chicago this year, down from more than 70 last year, while the Art Expo, dealer count is up. But David Lester emphasized that dealers at his show would have larger booths in which to display their wares.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.