New Epiphany Center for the Arts is slated to open in November
May 3, 2019

Photo courtesy Preservation Chicago
The sanctuary at the old Church of the Epiphany will serve as a performance and event venue when it becomes the Epiphany Center for the Arts.

By Nathan Worcester

Despite local residents’ concerns about liquor sales and hours of operation, the Epiphany Center for the Arts (ECA) is moving closer to completion.

“We are now taking reservations for events from November 1 and beyond,” ECA developer David Chase said, noting his “target for a final occupancy permit is August/September.”

Chase is president and CEO of Emerging Interests LLC. He also leads BCG Enterprises LLC.

The ECA will occupy the former Church of the Epiphany at 201 S. Ashland Ave. The complex also includes parish buildings and two modern buildings. The church and parish buildings form part of the Jackson Boulevard Historic District, making them official Chicago landmarks. Chicago has not landmarked the two modern buildings.

A presentation by Chase indicated the ECA would have several eclectic features, including a café with indoor and outdoor seating, artist studios, a bar, and a showcase kitchen. The church’s massive sanctuary will host large weddings, corporate functions, bar and bat mitzvahs, performance art, and other events.

The presentation also indicated several artists have expressed interest in performing at the ECA, including blues musician Sheryl Youngblood, jazz vocalist Erin McDougald, folk musician Ian Maksin, and jazz and blues band the Flat Cats.

Chase hopes to persuade the City to eliminate a ban on liquor sales at the site. That goal would require temporarily lifting a moratorium on liquor sales along Ashland Avenue between Congress Parkway and Adams Street so officials could approve his liquor license applications.

When asked how the ECA would fare if it could not sell liquor, Chase replied it “would be extremely detrimental to operations.”

In August 2018, Nike rented the property for its “Just Do It HQ at the Church,” a pop-up youth basketball camp with guests including Chicago Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen. According to Chase, Nike’s contractor installed temporary lighting during this event, angering “three or four people” in the neighborhood and touching off a local controversy.

Concerned about lighting

“We were concerned about the lighting for the Nike event,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “We were reassured that that was a kick-off event. I think everybody’s a little apprehensive because of the Nike event, but I think there’s a lot of trust in David Chase. I think everybody’s hopeful that David Chase and his wife and his company will really make this a remarkable venue.”

“Quite frankly, certain people over-reacted,” Chase said. He added that 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin “rightfully so provided them with a platform to express their concerns, which is what the most recent meeting was all about. In that meeting the alderman made it very clear that we had submitted and gained general acceptance of a plan of operation by both he and 12th District Police Commander Stephen C. Chung, and the only open issues were hours of operations, hours for outdoor patio, and closing time.”

Chase’s presentation included correspondence with Ervin and Chung’s representative, which his presentation indicated supported his plan of operation. Ervin and Chung could not be reached for comment.

An email, labeled “Commander letter of support” and authored by Sgt. Karlene Gurtowski of the Chicago Police Department, began by saying, “I reviewed everything with Commander Chung before I left. He is requiring a plan of operation for your business. I sent the approval letter on the condition of a plan of operation being implemented… I let them know what items the Commander would like to see covered in the plan: no third party promoters, security guards, security cameras (with 30-day retention), lighting, littering, noise, loitering, criminal activity, not operating as a night club… [and] hours of operation.”

Chase wants to keep the ECA open from 8 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. He wants the outdoor patio open from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Members of the One Historic Boulevard Homeowners’ Association, a townhouse development abutting the ECA, object to these proposed hours as well as other aspects of the proposed plan of operation.

“We all want to see something in that church, but we want to see something respectful,” said one resident.

“I’m fearful of people on the block at 3 a.m.” said another resident. “It’s a pretty big venue, too. I can only imagine what capacity folks would have to bring some pretty bad stuff to our front door.”

Association suggestions

The association responded to Chase’s proposed plan of operation with a redlined version. They want the ECA to close by 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and by 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. They want the outdoor patio closed by 10 p.m. every day of the week.

The redlined document indicates they also want the plan to specify a larger number of prohibited uses for the ECA, including cabaret, cocktail lounge, tavern, dance club, and adult entertainment facility. Additionally, they want to raise the minimum admission age for performances from 17 to 21.

Those residents also took issue with Chase’s characterization of their opposition. One resident said concerns about the lighting in August have “nothing to do with our objections to his concept of late night hours.” The resident added that the controversy over lighting arose over fears that Nike’s use of the space “was the shape of things to come.”

Multiple residents said Chase’s ECA plan has changed significantly since he first presented it to the neighborhood in early 2017, evolving from a community arts organization like the Beverly Arts Center where alcohol is supplied by third party caterers into a large-scale events venue selling alcohol directly to patrons.

“He’s essentially gaslighting us” about a 2017 presentation being consistent with presentations given in 2018 and 2019, said one resident.

When asked to provide that 2017 presentation, Chase responded, “I provided the alderman with a PowerPoint which contains the salient documents excerpted from the presentation; if he chooses to give that information to you, fine.”

As of press time, Alderman Ervin’s office had not responded to a request for that presentation.

May Toy of Neighbors of West Loop (NoWL), a group from which Chase claimed he “secured unanimous support” in the above mentioned presentation, said Chase had mentioned obtaining a liquor license at the February 2017 meeting that first introduced the project to community residents.

NoWL’s meeting notes from a second meeting in July 2017 likewise indicate liquor licensing was mentioned at that meeting. According to those notes, “The development team intends to obtain a liquor license to use the facility as an event space, however, they expect food for the events would be catered (i.e., not cooked on-site).”

“Our position has been that we are supportive of the project in that it re-purposes the property while keeping intact the historic architectural elements and creating an arts and cultural element in the West Loop, but our position has always been and remains that a plan of operation should be incorporated into the planned development agreement to protect the community interest long term,” added Toy. “I don’t know that our support can be termed unanimous without these caveats, which we have expressed consistently since the first community meeting. We believe all projects should have a plan of operation that is a compromise negotiated with neighborhood residents’ input.”

As of press time, Alderman Ervin’s office had not confirmed whether officials will schedule a new community meeting. “They haven’t set a future date,” said Shawn Smith, who is in charge of constituent services and ward surveying for the 28th Ward. Smith added that «residents affected by that particular church» would be notified of any meeting by mail, though he was unable to provide the range of addresses that would receive those mailings or confirm whether Alderman Ervin would use Facebook or any other medium to make residents aware of the meeting.

To contact Ervin, log on to www.aldermanervin.com or call (773) 533-0900.