Residents of Evanston’s Third Ward met June 23 at Lincoln Elementary School, 910 Forest Ave., to hear about the recent building proposal to develop the vacant property on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Main Street.
The location is the site of Mainstreet Station Condominiums, a failed residential project that was foreclosed upon in 2008 before ground was even broken.
The property is currently owned by developers OMS Evanston LLC, who purchased the property for about $1.65 million in December 2010.
OMS Evanston’s managing members, John O’Donnell and Greg Merdinger, were convinced by City officials to shift their plans from a mixed-use residential and retail building to mixed-use office and retail.
“This is a meeting for when a city has an idea,” Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne said. “What we’ve had in the Third Ward is what people have been craving everywhere.”
With recreation, stores and schools within walking distance throughout the ward, Ald. Wynne said, “people are realizing what we have known all along – that this a great place to be, and it’s a great place to work as well.”
Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Merdinger were present, along with the building’s leasing agent, Drew Nieman of Collier’s International. All emphasized that most of the ideas and marketing materials being presented were preliminary. “These are here just to spark your ideas,” Ald. Wynne said.
The final size of the building is predicated upon the number of tenants who sign on, but Mr. O’Donnell said he hopes to widen the sidewalk and set the building back about 4 feet to make the space friendly to pedestrians. For the moment, the project is expected to be about nine stories tall.
A woman in the audience asked whether there would be space to walk dogs. “I only ask because I live across from it,” she said.
“We have the dog beach and we have the lakefront,” replied Ald. Wynne.
“I know that, but you also put all the snow that came down this winter there – if you didn’t have that space, where would that have gone?” the woman asked. A few minutes later, however, she expressed confidence in the idea and complimented the project’s principals.
When Mr. Nieman was asked whether it was the best use for “a beautiful piece of green property,” City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz stepped forward.
“[Mr. O’Donnell] asked that same type of question,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said. “Why here? It’s because of Metra and CTA. It’s because of these businesses that really want to be here, but we don’t have the contiguous space.” If the office idea fails, Mr. Bobkiewicz added, the site will likely end up as apartments.
Allison Kamen, who lives near the site, expressed concern about how well the aesthetics of the projected new property would blend in with the neighborhood. “Although this building is lovely, it’s certainly more modern than the rest of the area,” Ms. Kamen said.
“That’s why we’re here, to get your input,” Ald. Wynne said. “The concept is to have a newer-looking building, and how do you still have a new building look contextual in a built community?”
Ms. Kamen added that residents would have concerns about the resale values of their homes. “I just want to make sure that we’re not eventually selling our home in an office area,” she said.
Greg Andus of Evanston emphasized that the building should be marketed to entrepreneurs within the community. “I’d like to see something in there that’s owned by somebody in the town,” Mr. Andus said. “If we’re going to pay money to something that goes in there, I’d rather not have it sent to the ‘home office’ somewhere else.”
The June 23 meeting was held in the school’s library rather than its gymnasium, where it was originally scheduled to take place, because much of the neighborhood had been experiencing a two-day-long power outage.
“I hope that none of your tenants hear that we’ve been without power for two days,” one man in the audience said.
Local Businesses Speak Out AboutLocal business owners expressed their opinions on the proposed development of a mixed use – office/retail or residential/retail – building on the southeast corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue.
Some business owners said they would encourage the mixed-use building because it would increase their own clientele. “”Businesses thrive on other businesses,”” said Robert Piron of Belgian Chocolatier Piron. Owner of Chicago-Main Newsstand Joe Angelastri said that he is excited and encouraged by the proposed use of the building.
Business owners also brought up inconveniences posed by another building in the area: dust and parking. Mr. Angelastri said the construction of a nearby building was inconvenient for his customers. Mr. Piron said he hopes with this new building there will be more public parking “”to get some of the stress off the street. Some customers call to say, ‘I was going to come by, but I couldn’t find parking.’””
Eric Singer of Lucky Platter said, “”The City [of Evanston] inadequately addresses parking, and is delinquent in addressing business’s [parking] needs.”” He said it was “”pathetic that the City gave them money at all. $40,000? The City shouldn’t subsidize businesses.”” Mr. Singer also said he felt an office building would help the neighboring businesses. — Rachel C. Lloyd