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At the Jan. 24 meeting of the West Village Business Association (WVBA), Scott Inbinder of Bonnie Investment outlined the advantages and the particular challenges of his investment group’s recent purchase: Evanston Plaza, the shopping center at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.
“What we see as an opportunity here is a dense urban population. [We look at] the amount of vacancy [in the plaza as] a little bit of a blank slate,” said Mr. Inbinder, a principal of Bonnie Investment, which purchased the foreclosed property from Bank of America a few weeks ago.
Mr. Inbinder appeared to be fairly candid about the likely challenges in leasing the spaces in the plaza with 213,000 square feet of leasable space. But he said he was optimistic about creating a thriving shopping area in time.
He said the “physical nature of the center is not the most attractive” and said the company would improve the pylon signs on the perimeter and add landscaping in the spring. The size and location will pose some problems to potential tenants, he said. The place is not Old Orchard or downtown Evanston, he continued, and it may seem too small to attract a lot of national chains and too large to attract only local businesses. “It’s not quite a neighborhood” plaza but not a big-name shopping mall, either.
The multi-year lease for the anchor tenant, a Dominick’s grocery store, places several restrictions on the types of businesses that can come into the plaza, said Mr. Inbinder. He said, however, that he had spoken with Dominick’s representatives and there might be “some give” in some of those restrictions. “It’s very difficult to navigate the waters,” he said but added, “In conversation with Dominick’s, they’ve indicated they would be willing to work with us.”
Bonnie Investment would like to secure one or two “junior anchor” tenants to complement the Dominick’s store, said Mr. Inbinder. There are two fairly large spaces: the 38,000 square foot space formerly occupied by the A.J. Wright store and one slightly smaller space that had combined several smaller spaces to accommodate a Steve and Barry’s store that never opened. He said the smallest space for lease would likely be about 1,200 square feet.
In addition to potentially large-scale tenants, Mr. Inbinder said Bonnie Investment would try to attract “very entrepreneurial, locally based businesses” to complement the larger ones. “There was a day when you used to pick your tenants. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case any more. We will reach out to local and national retailers.”
Although Mr. Inbinder declined to discuss in concrete detail any possible tenants or even names, he told the West Village Association Business Association members Bonnie Investment would likely consider a sporting goods store, a martial arts academy, a medical clinic and after-school programs for high school students. He also said the company has not ruled out a bowling alley and would be open to suggestions.
“There are retailers who felt that they could never get a deal done with the prior owner and with the bank. We feel that for the last two years the plaza has been stuck. … We hope we can open up the jam.” Said Mr. Inbinder.
City and business representatives seemed to be very positive about the new owners.
“There is a good deal of excitement,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, in whose Second Ward the plaza lies, “but I ask for your patience.”
WVBA president Cindy Jevon said she was “very pleased that he spent the whole meeting with us, giving him the opportunity to see who we are as a business association. While unfortunately not all of our members were able to attend, I do think he got a good idea of the types of businesses that are located in the West Village, and that we are more than the franchises located along Dempster.”
Ms. Jevon also said, “Mr. Inbinder left me with the impression that he is willing to listen to our concerns and that there will be an ongoing dialog.” WVBA member Dickelle Fonda said of the meeting, “This is a real hopeful beginning. … It’s to their [Bonnie Investment’s] benefit to work with us. … We were always dealing with [Joseph] Freed [the prior owner] on a piecemeal basis, and we did not have a business advocacy group.”
“Scott has been fantastic,” said City economic planner Paul Zalmesak. “He did a lot of research and met with City staff and the alderman. I can’t think of a better developer to have. I appreciate his honesty and his realism. He also understands that the City and the business association do not want schlock retail.”
Mr. Inbinder will meet with Second Ward residents at the next Second Ward meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 9 at the Joseph Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.