This City-owned building at 1817 Church St., vacant for a decade, may become the home of a contractors’ cooperative.

The long-vacant building at 1817 Church St. may soon be humming with tenants. A new business cooperative, the Evanston-North Shore Contractors Cooperative, would like to give the exterior a facelift, rehab the interior, add a second story in the rear and then settle down to business. Because they are contractors, the group has experience in performing both the exterior and interior work.

The 13 members of E-NSCC – each of whom is based on the City’s West Side or has worked there – will contribute to the project either financially or with sweat equity, said John Leineweber of Renaissance Builders.

The large room on the first floor will be used as a conference room by any of the members, said Mr. Leineweber. Small offices on the first floor will be rented to “ancillary businesses,” such as lawyers or insurance agents. Even smaller cubicles will be leased to emerging businesses, which, he said, the cooperative, members hope will thrive and “graduate” to the second or third floor. In that sense, and because of the collaborative nature of the enterprise, the cooperative would also function as a business incubator, he said.

Financing for this project is defined but not straightforward, said Nancy Radzevich of the City’s Department of Community and Economic Development. Money in the City’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) fund has been allocated for the project. However, it is not clear whether the cooperative would qualify for this money, she said. Although the City’s legal department has not yet made an analysis or given an opinion, Ms. Radzevich said the concept is that the cooperative once is it organized as a business, would receive a construction loan of about $200,000 from the City’s West Evanston tax-increment financing (TIF) district. The cooperative would begin to repay the loan within two years – in the best case, using a mortgage that the group itself would obtain.

Members of the Economic Development Committee, who heard the plan at their July 27 meeting, appeared to be excited about the project for this City-owned property, which has been vacant for 10 years. There were some concerns expressed as to whether the project would generate jobs and whether the City had a backup plan, should this one not work out.

Further discussion was cut off when Committee chair Coleen Burrus said she had just received a text message about approaching bad weather and suggested adjournment. Hurriedly the committee members agreed to recommend the proposal, but not the loan, to City Council. Ms. Radzevich said staff would try to have clearer information about the request for the loan to the City Council next month.