What’s next for Evanston movie theater

For over two decades, the Century 12 movie theater has been a gathering place for Evanston residents. Kids and adults alike could come together to enjoy a break from the stresses of their everyday life. However, since March of 2020, people have missed out on this Evanston staple. 

The movie theater was located in the Church Street Plaza, which consists of businesses like Chili’s, Noodles and Company and the CTA and Metra stations. The plaza as a whole has had problems staying afloat during the pandemic, and its economic value has dropped drastically. 

“Stockbridge Capital Group [the previous owners of the plaza] is selling at a massive loss. They bought the building in November of 2013, I think for $70 million. And they’re selling it for somewhere in the range of $30 million,” Evanston’s Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said.

For the theater, one of the biggest potential problems was that Evanston residents did not feel comfortable going to see a movie in the height of the pandemic.

“I think it depends on what safety measures they would have had, but unless they were very extreme, no, I’m not sure I would have.” ETHS freshman Leela Wittenberg Trubowitz said. This means that even if Century 12 had tried to reopen, they would have had a hard time finding customers. 

Another contributor to this issue was the absence of Northwestern students. They provide a large portion of the income of Evanston businesses, so when Northwestern decided not to bring students back in-person for the 2020 school year, it was a devastating blow to the whole plaza.

However, while it may seem like the pandemic was the reason for the theater’s closing, the theatre had actually wanted out of their lease even before COVID-19 hit. Stockbridge Capital Group, the previous owners of the plaza, had a disagreement about the terms and conditions with Century 12. When the pandemic hit and the government disallowed large gatherings, the people with Century 12 had a way to leave the contract.

“The lease was very vague in terms of what it meant if something like this happened,” Zalmezak said. 

There was a loophole in the contract that was exploited in order for the tenants to leave. All of this meant that Evanston residents were left without a movie theater in the city for far too long.

Soon after, Stockbridge Capital Group sold the whole plaza to a Chicago-based real estate company called GW Properties. GW Properties has a fresh vision for the theater, recognizing the fall of traditional retail that has become more and more apparent in the world. They plan on renting the building out and creating a better, more modern, space for the community. 

One such idea from GW Properties is reducing the number of theaters in the building from 18 to 12, and using the extra space for potential activities like rock climbing or a trampoline park. They also would like to find a restaurant, shop or other business to inhabit the first floor of the building. 

A central part of GW’s plan for the plaza is to turn more towards indoor attractions that have been increasing in popularity as of late. The movie theater, in particular, is ideally designed for such transformation.

Be that as it may, Evanston will soon have a place for the community to watch movies again. “Over the next six or eight weeks, the theater hopes to be showing movies,” Zalmezak explained.

For the people of Evanston, this will be more than just a theater. It will be a place for citizens to gather, relax and enjoy a friendly environment. With the expansions to both the movie theater and downtown Evanston as a whole, residents will be able to have fun in their own town.