Members of the City’s Economic Development Committee voted on Oct. 27 to support a bid for tax-reclassification of one of Evanston’s oldest manufacturing companies and to recommend that the City Council expend $700,000 of unbudgeted money in the Southwest tax-increment financing (TIF) district to enable the company to remain and expand its steel-stamping business in Evanston. That recommendation was approved unanimously at the Nov. 8 City Council meeting.

Seventy-year-old Ward Manufacturing has been in Evanston for about 60 years. Located first at 1218 Sherman Ave., it later moved to the 1100 block of Emerson Street, said Michael Ward, whose grandfather founded the company. In the 1990s, when the City and Northwestern University began their partnership to develop a research park, the company was relocated to its present site at 2222 Main St., a pie-shaped lot along the railroad tracks east of McCormick Boulevard.

The company has grown in the past decade to the point where it must expand, either by building a warehouse here or by relocating from Evanston, Mr. Ward said.

Mr. Ward, his brother, Tom, and architect David Forte came to the Oct. 27 Economic Development Committee meeting to request the City’s help on two fronts: first, to support their request to the Cook County Board of [Tax] Review to be classified a 6B business, and second, to allocate funds from the Southwest TIF district to help defray the cost of constructing a new warehouse.

Michael Ward said the company is one of the last of the blue-collar manufacturers. “We’ve had 43 employees, most of them long-term, and 38 or more of them hourly employees – non-skilled labor,” he said. Building the new warehouse would allow Ward to hire at least six new employees. In addition, the company would close a warehouse in Morton Grove they have been renting for a few years and bring those six employees back to Evanston, making 12 new jobs in Evanston, he said.

“We’re bucking the system [that says manufacturing in this country is gone]. This [expansion] is what we need to do to accommodate the growth that we have the opportunity to capitalize on,” Mr. Ward said. “The third generation is supposed to be the one to drive [the company] into the ditch. We’re not doing to drive it into the ditch,” he added.

Tom Ward said the company has been “fortunate to be in Evanston,” and both brothers emphasized that they would like the company to remain here.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rrd Ward, chair of the Economic Development Committee, said she and Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste had visited the company and been impressed by it.

Class 6B Tax

According to the City, Cook County’s Class 6B Classification is “designed is designed to encourage industrial development throughout Cook County. It offers a reduced property tax assessment from the standard 25 percent assessment of market value to 10 percent for the first 10 years, 15 percent in the 11th year, and 20 percent in the 12th year

The committee voted unanimously to support the company’s bid for reclassification for its existing building, even though that would result in decreased property taxes for the City from that parcel. The prospect of keeping the company in Evanston – with the promise of continued employment, new jobs and additional taxes on the property that would be improved with the warehouse – would offset that decrease, according to information presented by the City. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested that the City solicit the help of Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who lives in Evanston. “The commitment [to Evanston] is really important. What they’re doing flies in the face of what everyone is telling us.”

Committee members agreed to recommend that City Council support Ward Manufacturing’s request for reclassification and to reach out to the members of both school boards and of “any other taxing districts” to support its request.

TIF Funds

Committee members also voted unanimously to recommend that City Council allocate $700,000 from unbudgeted funds in the Southwest TIF district to help defray the company’s costs of expansion. In an Oct. 22 memo to the members of the Economic Development Committee, Assistant City Manager Martin Lyons said, “Several of the costs associated with rehabilitation represent extraordinary costs above normal renovation expenditures required to upgrade a property.” Among those costs, he said are the removal and replacement of the floor [foundation], installation of heating and cooling system, electrical and emergency lighting and fire systems, energy-efficient windows. “The costs associated with rehabilitation of property are all TIF-eligible expenses,” Mr. Lyons said.

Ald. Wynne said, “Not only is [Ward] expanding their business, it is taking away something that has been a problem in the community [the vacant warehouse].”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...