On Dec. 16, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, seven aldermen, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, and other City officials, business persons and community members met on the parking lot in front of A.J. Wright store in Evanston Plaza and called on TJX to reconsider its decision to close the store permanently. They urged that the store be rebranded as a HomeGoods store.

TJX Companies, Inc., owners of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and A.J. Wright stores announced on Dec. 10 that it plans to close all of its A.J. Wright stores. Ninety-one of the stores will be converted to, or rebranded as, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls or HomeGoods stores. The Evanston store, however, will not be among them, a spokesperson for TJX Companies told the RoundTable on Dec. 14.

A.J. Wright is one of the anchors of Evanston Plaza, along with a Dominick’s food store. Many of the plaza spaces are vacant. Other smaller businesses there, such as Panino’s Restaurant, Subway, Metro Kleeners, Kingston Grill, Dunkin’ Donuts and Dance Center Evanston, have loyal clients and customers.

At the rally on Dec. 16, Mayor Tisdahl said, “We are confident, based on the unique characteristics of Evanston and the surrounding community, that 1916 Dempster would be a great opportunity and potentially lucrative untapped market for TJX to establish a new HomeGoods store.

“Evanston is prepared and willing to roll up its sleeves and work with TJX to determine what needs to be done to rebrand this store; whether it is financial assistance through our Economic Development Incentive Funds, expediting approval for rehab or cutting any red tape. We have a vision and a commitment for this shopping center, and it includes retaining such a great business as TJX Companies.”

Mayor Tisdahl added that “one of the major priorities for the City” is to increase economic revitalization efforts along the Dodge-Dempster Corridor, which includes Evanston Plaza. “We are committed to actively seeking out ways to improve the site for existing and future businesses,” she said.

Other speakers at the rally voiced support for rebranding the store as a HomeGoods store, including Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, whose Second Ward encompasses Evanston Plaza; Bea Rashid, director of Dance Center Evanston, which provides dance lessons to 800 families at their location; and community activist Dickelle Fonda.

Earlier in the day, at a meeting of the Joint Review Board – composed of representatives of all taxing bodies on the Cook County property tax bill – mention was made of the problems at Evanston Plaza. Dennis Marino, assistant director of community and economic development, said the shopping plaza had gone into foreclosure because owner Joseph Freed and Company had used it as “cross collateral” in its failed venture on Chicago’s Block 37. To develop the shopping plaza, the City offered Freed a sales-tax sharing agreement, under which Freed would retain a certain amount of the sales tax revenue generated and share the remainder with the City on an equal basis. Assistant City Manager Martin Lyons said it had been three or four years since the shopping center had generated sufficient tax revenue for the City to receive a share.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who attended the JRB meeting, said it might be time to include the plaza in the West Evanston TIF. That TIF district extends along Dodge Avenue from north of Church Street to Dempster Street. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, appeared to oppose the idea, saying she felt too much attention was being given to the south end of the TIF, “when it was created to develop the Church/Dodge area.” Assistant Manager Martin Lyons said it might be time for the City to revisit the sales-tax sharing agreement.