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On April 8, the developers of 708 Church St. presented their new proposal for the site: a tower that is 11 stories and about 100 feet shorter than was originally proposed. It is now 38 stories and 421 feet tall.

Most obvious, though, are two multi-story “wings” on the east and west side of the building, rising above the four-story base and adding a third tier to the ziggurat. By adding these wings, the developers were able to keep the total square footage of the building at 451,644 square feet, about 6,000 square feet less than originally planned.

In addition, the setback along Orrington Avenue has been decreased from 37 feet to 20 feet.

The four-story base has somewhat more angled and sharp corners at the Church Street ends; it still holds ground-floor retail, with parking above for the 218 residential units in the tower, said architect Larry Booth of Booth Hansen, the architect for the project.

“We wanted to respond to concerns and still accomplish what we wanted and [what we] think is best for downtown Evanston,” Mr. Booth told the nine aldermen on the City’s Planning and Development Committee and the nearly 100 persons who attended the meeting.

“We’ve extended [widened] the building at midpoint, creating a capstone from the midpoint to the top. … There is now a lower and an upper section [to the building].”

I wouldn’t call it a tower; I wouldn’t call it a box,” Mr. Booth said.

“We want [the building] to be delicate, light and reflective. … We want it to be the tallest building in Evanston for a long time – like maybe a thousand years,” he added.

The remainder of the proposal is the same. The developers are seeking a change of zoning for the property from D2, the downtown retail core district to D3, the downtown core development district. They are also seeking added height and other zoning relief.

They plan to renovate the adjacent, landmarked Hahn building, said Steve Friedland, their attorney.

Public Benefits, Plan Commission Conditions and Economics

The developers’ position vis-à-vis public benefits and the Plan Commission’s conditions have not changed, said Mr. Friedland. The developers’ list of “public benefits” includes the building itself, the architectural excellence of which will be a benefit for the entire community, the developers have said. In addition, they plan to seek silver LEED certification for the building. LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – is a designation by the U.S. Green Building Council. There are four LEED ratings: certified, silver, gold and platinum.

The developers say they are offering other public benefits: a commitment to renovate the Hahn building and the promise of a “direct contribution to the rehab of Fountain Square.”

The rehab of the Hahn building comes with a request of $3 million from the City to help with the renovation. Because the proposed project is in a tax-increment financing (TIF) district and because the tower project will generate TIF revenues, the developers would like to share in the tax increment (the difference between the tax on the property as improved and unimproved) to rehab the Hahn building. The “direct contribution” to the Fountain Square rehab has not been defined, but Mr. Friedland has indicated the developers might help with the design.

When the Plan Commission voted on the original proposal, the divisive 4-3 vote favoring the proposal included a minority report by the dissenters and several conditions attached to the majority decision.

Among those conditions are the formation of a committee to monitor the project to ensure the project is constructed as promised and a requirement of underground parking to allow for office space in additional to the retail space in the project.

Mr. Friedland reiterated that the developers intended to abide by all the conditions except the one mandating additional office space and underground parking because it was not economically feasible to do so.

He told the aldermen, “We believe … you’ll find the public benefits will be sufficient to justify the site development allowances sought [by the developer].

Economic concerns surfaced at the March 24 Planning and Development Committee meeting, as citizens and aldermen questioned whether the regional and national chain stores that would replace local retail and service businesses would be beneficial or detrimental to the downtown economy. The Evanston Coalition for Responsible Development (ECRD) presented data, based on the Andersonville area of Chicago, showing that local businesses help a local economy more than do chains.

The City has hired Martin Stern of U.S. Equities, a frequent consultant on City projects, to study the ECRD report and present an analysis of it and of the tower proposal at the April 30 Economic Development Committee meeting.

Next Steps

The Planning and Development Committee will continue to hear and deliberate on the proposal, rather than sending it back to the Plan Commission. Ken Cox of the City’s law department told the aldermen that since the zoning requests had not changed, there was no need to refer the new proposal to the Plan Commission.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, who chairs the Planning and Development Committee meeting, invited all interested parties to attend the April 30 Economic Development Committee meeting to hear Mr. Stern’s report. In addition, a Planning and Development Committee meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on May 7. The first 90 minutes of that meeting will be devoted to public comment; then the Committee members will discuss the proposal.