The fate of a long-vacant parcel at the southeast corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue and a potential addition to the Howard Street corridor were at the center of the May 25 meeting of the City’s Economic Development Committee, held at the police outpost, 633 W. Howard St.
Johanna Nyden, economic development planner for the City, and Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, introduced the developers of the vacant property at Main Street and Chicago Avenue. The location is being envisioned as a mixed-use retail and office building.
The original two-story structure was demolished in 2007 in anticipation of the construction of a mixed-use commercial and residential development, Mainstreet Station Condominiums, to be composed of ground level-retail and 71 residential units.
But the building’s owner failed to make timely payments, and in 2008 Cole Taylor Bank foreclosed on the property. Its current owners, OMS Evanston LLC, purchased the property for about $1.65 million in December 2010.
John O’Donnell and Greg Merdinger, managing members at OMS, appeared before the committee to ask for a grant of $40,000, which they said would cover the costs of marketing to prospective tenants.
Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Merdinger delivered what they emphasized was an extremely preliminary presentation about site’s potential use as a retail and office complex. The location is desirable for commuters since Main Street has both CTA and Metra stations, they said.
Mr. O’Donnell said he envisioned scenarios wherein executives and employees might both use mass transit. The development would largely be marketed to tech companies.
“The actual size of this building is going to be user-driven,” Mr. Merdinger said. “One of the things that is different from development projects that are residential in nature [is that] you build what is known as ‘on spec,’ meaning you build to the zoning envelope, then you sell those units or rent them; in the office business, you have to build to what is pre-leased in order to induce financing.”
“What we have to do is market this vision and help others get this vision as well,” said Mr. O’Donnell, who estimated total predevelopment costs to be about $400,000.
Ms. Nyden said that Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Merdinger had hoped the upper floors of the development would be residential, not office, spaces, and that the new plan largely came at the behest of the City.
“This is not their first choice,” Ms. Nyden said. “They’ve actually been very polite now that we’ve convinced them of this office development.”
“As a City, I think it’s good to be partners with a group like this,” she added.
Ald. Wynne expressed hope that the site would likely not end up playing host to a one-story retail establishment.
“Once you put a one-story Walgreens or CVS on that corner, it’s there forever,” she said. “… This gives us the opportunity to change the dynamic of that corner.”
“We need the marketing money to get that vision,” Ald. Wynne added.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend that City Council aprrove the grant to OMS. The award would be in two payments of $20,000 each, with the second payment contingent on a progress report to the committee by OMS in September. The first neighborhood meeting about plans for the development will be held in mid-June.
The City Development Office released a statement May 26 praising the grant. “Since the city seeks a partnership with OMS to deliver a development that meets the redevelopment goals of the City, the surrounding merchant district and the greater Evanston community, the opportunity to participate financially will ensure the City continues to have a role in this redevelopment effort,” according to the statement.