Skokie Hires Iowa Firm To Run North Shore Center For Performing Arts

SKOKIE, IL — Following the expiration of its agreement with the longtime facilities management company of the North Shore Center for Performing Arts, Skokie village trustees voted this week to approve a five-year agreement with the Ames, Iowa-based firm VenuWorks.

VenuWorks manages nearly 40 venues across the country, including the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet.

According to the terms of the deal, it will collect a $180,000 annual fee to provide programming and management services at the village-owned venue. That fee will rise annually at a rate of up to 3 percent, depending on inflation.

But there is also an incentive for VenuWorks to keep the village’s costs down. Currently, Skokie budgets $250,000 to the operation of the venue — not counting its capital improvement plan.

If VenuWorks manages to reduce that subsidy below $150,000, it will receive a share of the money saved — up to a maximum of $52,500 if it manages to reduce the annual taxpayer subsidy to zero.

Steve Peters, president of VenuWorks, said the terms of the contract encourage revenue and audience growth at the venue.

“We get an incentive for reducing the subsidy, which [Assistant Village Manager] Nick [Wyatt] has emphasized to me is a very important part of what we need to do. And we will,” Peters said. “We will reduce the subsidy while we maintain the program that you want to have. And all these commissions and incentive fees are at risk — they don’t just come automatically we have to earn them.”

The company will also receive 15 percent of any food or beverage sales beyond $90,000 per year, and it pledged to provide an interest-free loan of $150,000 by Sept. 1 to cover the cost of improvements to the facilities food, beverage and alcohol service capabilities, according to the terms of the agreement. The village will pay the company back at a rate of $15,000 a year.

Peters said VenuWorks would take all existing North Shore Center staff onto its payroll.

“It’s our company culture that we kind of support those people in every area of ​​operation,” he said at Monday’s village board meeting. “They stand higher and reach higher allows of the support we’re able to bring them. We’re part of a pool that us to secure benefits, rights and 401(k) participation and provide the kind of benefits that we want to to our employees, and through all this, in this transition, we’re going to be focused on meeting your village’s expectations.”

Ann Tennes, the village’s director of communication and marketing and a member of the team that selected VenuWorks, said in a memo to trustees that the base fee for VenuWorks under the new contract is “significantly less” than the amount that had been paid to former operator Professional Facilities Management, or PFM.

According to the village’s most recent budget, Rhode Island-based PFM managed the facility’s operations for 25 years and programmed at the North Shore Center for a dozen years.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, PFM received $255,000 in combined financial assistance from the federal Payroll Protection Program and state Business Interruption Grants, according to the budget, which said it would be applying for further such grants.

The North Shore Center is on track to lose a major tenant in the coming years. Northlight Theater, which has performed at the Skokie venue since it relocated there in 1997, is set to move back to a planned new theater in downtown Evanston. Its lease in Skokie is set to expire in August 2024.

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