CHICAGO — David Schwimmer stopped morning traffic on Michigan Avenue Thursday as he joined the mayor of Chicago and governor of Illinois at a press conference to announce that the Lookingglass Theater will take up permanent residence in a new two-theater complex supported by public money and built in the Windy City’s historic Water Tower Pumping Station. The “Friends” star is a founding member of the Lookingglass company.
With an enviable location right in the heart of Chicago’s hotel and tourist district, the theaters are expected to be ready by fall 2001. Rent for the space, which formerly housed the “Here’s Chicago” tourist attraction, will be set at $1 per year.
Deal is another major commitment from the city to Chi legit. Continuing its seemingly endless willingness to bankroll theaters in the downtown area, the Chicago city government is donating $1.5 million toward a total buildout cost of about $6 million. Remarkably, Illinois House Republican Leader Lee A. Daniels persuaded Gov. George Ryan, also a Republican, to unleash some of the money raised by increases in the Illinois license and liquor taxes. The so-called Illinois First program is generally reserved for roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements.
“This is an initiative for the soul of Chicago,” Ryan said on Thursday, leaving longtime Midwestern arts observers scratching their heads at a drastic change in the political climate that now allows Chi legit to takes its place alongside other so-called pork projects.
Lookingglass, a 12-year-old ensemble specializing in company-devised work and best known for the original adaptations of Mary Zimmerman, has been negotiating hard for this space for years. Unlike the other new downtown theaters, this venue is in the city’s tourist and retail hub and within walking distance of thousands of hotel rooms.
A historic landmark, the Pumping Station (also known as the Water Works) is among Chicago’s oldest and most visible buildings. Michigan Avenue commands the highest retail rents in the Midwest, making the location impossible for any nonprofit company paying commercial rates.
“It truly exceeds our dreams,” said a breathless Schwimmer, promising the media that he will be appearing frequently in shows in the new theaters, a 250-seat, black-box mainstage and a studio with 90 seats. Although it can look forward to years of free rent courtesy of taxpayers, Lookingglass must now raise the remaining $3.5 million to open its new home.