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How Real Estate Is A Part Of Steppenwolf, Goodman Theatre's Success

Yondorf Hall

Chicago is home to world-class theater companies, and the larger ones are also adept at navigating the real estate waters.

Last month, Steppenwolf Theatre placed Yondorf Hall at 758 West North Ave (shown) on the market. Steppenwolf has used Yondorf Hall as office space since the company built its theater at 1650 North Halsted in 1991, and bought the four-story landmark mixed-use building in 2003. Three years ago, Steppenwolf launched a $50M expansion at the North Halsted location that added new theaters and a casual dining space designed in collaboration with Boka Restaurant Group.

The expansion also consolidated Steppenwolf's offices into one location, leaving Yondorf Hall vacant. Steppenwolf bought a former retail storefront at 1700 North Halsted in 2013 and plans to combine the two buildings into a larger campus. The Yondorf Hall sale is expected to garner $20M bids as a prime mixed-use expansion. Yondorf Hall's landmark status prevents it from being demolished, but the adjacent parking lot could be rezoned for mixed-use, which is a slam-dunk opportunity given the building's Halsted Triangle location.


The Goodman Theatre, one of Chicago's oldest theater ensembles, has a long history of leveraging relationships for its HQs. The Goodman first started with a $250k gift from William and Erna Goodman to the Art Institute of Chicago in memory of their son, aspiring playwright Kenneth Sawyer Goodman. The Goodman remained associated with the Art Institute until 1976, when it incorporated as the Chicago Theatre Group and began raising money on its own. It still called the Art Institute home until it opened its current space at 170 North Dearborn in 2000. The city helped the Goodman find the site, which became one of the foundations in Chicago's booming theater district. Last year, the Goodman expanded with the opening of the Alice B. Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement.


Then there are the cautionary tales like Redmoon Theatre, which ceased operations in December 2015 after its landlord filed a lawsuit alleging the company owed $62k in back rent on its HQ (shown). For hand-to-mouth theater companies like Redmoon, there's little room for error and a bet on something like a HQ expansion can be devastating. In Redmoon's case, it banked on fans flocking to its space at 2120 South Jefferson in Pilsen.

The most successful theaters, like retail, thrive in part because of location. Redmoon's former space was in the middle of a mostly industrial corridor where Pilsen, Bridgeport and Chinatown intersect, which isn't easily accessible by public transportation. Coupled with the losses Redmoon incurred producing the city's Great Chicago Fire festival in 2014 and 2015, Redmoon dug itself a hole from which it couldn't climb out — executive director Jim Lasko said the company needed to be successful with one of those gambles, and lost on both.