Elevation of proposed Bright Horizons childcare facility in the 1600 block of Orrington Avenue. The facility could accommodate more than 300 children.

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Vacant since Borders moved to Maple Avenue in 2003, the building at 1629
Orrington Ave. may finally get a new tenant as early as this September.

On Jan. 9, City Council introduced a special-use ordinance approving the application of Bright Horizons Daycare seeking to completely renovate the space and open a new day-care facility. Renovations are estimated to cost $5 million; the center expects to haire and employ 58 new people when fully operational.

Debbie Brown, vice president for client services at Bright Horizons, said the new center will have a capacity of 308 children spread over 23 classrooms and ranging in age from 6 weeks to 6 years old. Sixty spots will be reserved for Northwestern University use. The 58 new employees will be primarily teachers and teaching assistants but will also include some food service and administrative employees.

The renovation plans call for a playground on the rooftop of the existing structure, complete with elevator access and restroom facilities. The rooftop playground will be used by 4- to 6-year-olds. A smaller playground will be constructed at ground level for children up to age 4.

The project will occupy all of the building except for two spaces facing Orrington with about 2,500 square feet each. Those spaces remain reserved for retail use.

Drop-off parking has been secured in the small parking lot that sits between the center and one of Evanston’s largest office buildings, the 1603 Orrington building. In addition to the 21 reserved spots in that lot, six spaces in the underground lot will also be reserved during certain hours for pick up and drop off.

Several speakers at Monday’s meeting warned of the scale of the proposed center and potential oversupply of child care spots that might result when such a huge facility is added to an already crowded market for 4- and 5-year-olds. Sheryl Katz of
Evanston Day Nursery said that a population of 308 will make the center larger than some Evanston schools. “It isn’t about ratios,” she said, “it’s about the absolute number of children in a space.”

By way of example, Bright Horizons operates the day care center connected to Evanston Hospital on Central Street. That center has a capacity of about 80 children.

Other speakers said that while Evanston needs additional spaces for infants and young toddlers, there is already more than enough supply for the 4- and 5- year-old set.

The Planning and Development Committee did not pursue that argument. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said that under the special-use ordinance the Committee was not permitted to take a position on this issue when making a special-use determination. Steve Griffin, the City’s director of Community Development, agreed.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st ward, introduced several amendments to the ordinance in an effort to limit and more clearly define the special use. First, she sought to make the special use specific and particular to Bright Horizons. Second, she sought to make the special use contingent upon Bright Horizons remaining a “for profit” enterprise. Finally, she wanted the ordinance to ensure that the two spaces facing Orrington Avenue remain retail.

Addressing the third amendment, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “I don’t know that we can impose a condition about the unused portion of the building” on this applicant. Those spaces are under the control of the landlord, not Bright Horizons, he said.

The other two amendments were discussed briefly, but Ald. Wilson said, “I am disinclined to amend at this point.” None of the amendments came to a vote, and the ordinance passed out of committee by a 4-0 vote. At Council, it passed on the consent agenda.

The center promises to bring an infusion of traffic into a largely dormant section of downtown Evanston. “It might be the beginning of something … and heaven knows we need it,” said Vincent Muciaccia, owner of Vincent and Company Hair Designs, which sits directly across Orrington Avenue from the proposed center.

“If it’s done correctly, we can feed off of it,” he said, adding that he might offer specials for children’s haircuts in order to attract customers. Currently, his block of Orrington “rolls up at 5:30,” he said. Bringing 308 families to the street everyday can only help, he said, and might result in vacant spaces, such as the Enigma Cafe, Pomegranate and Omaggio restaurants getting new tenants.

The measure returns to Council for a final vote Jan. 23.