Evanston Plaza at DempsterStreet and Dodge Avenue.RoundTable photo

City Council has approved a tax-increment financing (TIF) district for the Dempster-Dodge shopping center. The vote was not unanimous, but even the two aldermen who voted against the TIF district said they wanted to see positive change in the area. What was on the table, they said, was inadequate to gain their support.
Under a redevelopment agreement between the City and plaza owner Bonnie Management, Inc., the City will contribute $2 million for site work such as landscaping, build-outs and canopy repairs. The City says these qualify as TIF-eligible expenses.
The Case for the TIF
“We see the TIF in two segments,” City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said on June 25. The first encompasses the time from now until 2019, when Dominick’s lease expires, and the time beyond that. “It’s our feeling that the termination of that lease is going to be a critical juncture for the [shopping plaza].” For that reason, the City would like to invest some of that money now in infrastructure and upgrades to the physical aspect of the plaza, so the owners, Bonnie Management, Inc., will be able to attract strong new tenants. “We’d like to … really make sure that the corpus of these funds will be available when that lease is up,” he said. City officials have estimated that by the end of Dominick’s present lease there will be about $3.6 million in the TIF.
“The TIF will provide flexibility,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said.
Dominick’s Is the Wild Card
“Dominick’s brings an element of uncertainty to the TIF,” Mr. Bobkiewicz added. He said he believes there is a pattern of Dominick’s food stores leaving shopping plazas once a lease is up, rather than renewing the lease. Until then, however, the City’s lease with Dominick’s controls in large part what types of tenants can come to the plaza. Dominick’s has said it does not wish to have any tenants that would require intense or long-term parking, such as health clubs, bowling alleys or other family-entertainment businesses.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “The retention of Dominick’s is the most important thing we can focus on.”
Mr. Bobkiewicz said, however, that the City has received no meaningful response from Dominick’s. He said even after calling their corporate offices in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, “the response we got was very much a cold shoulder.
“Dominick’s Finer Foods may not be long for this area, [but] we must be mindful that our community needs a grocery store there.”
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she was “really disappointed that they’re not cooperating with what we’re doing, [but] we have to move ahead. We need something to attract foot traffic, families and high-school kids.”
The vote to approve the TIF was 6-2. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, was absent from the meeting.
‘Not Imaginative Enough’
Only Don Wilson, fourth Ward, and Mark Tendam, sixth Ward, voted against the TIF. Ald. Wilson reiterated that he felt the shopping plaza was very important but said he was disappointed that the TIF did not present a specific plan. “To me [the TIF is] a cash stream for a private property owner. … The TIF doesn’t give any assurance to any of the residents that they’re going to have any input. … People have discussed their vision, but this does not provide any assurance that [those wants and needs] will be met. … The landscaping, build-out and canopy repair – those are things the owner, who bought the plaza at auction, should do. … I want the nature of the property to be better. I want the neighborhood to improve.”
“I, too, have concerns and reservations about this,” said Ald. Tendam. He said he liked the ideas presented by Leadership Evanston, “but what I don’t see is an excited partner.”
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, in whose 2nd Ward the property lies, thanked the Council for its support of the TIF.
Neighborhood Vision
Overall, the residents who attended the town hall meeting and those who responded to the survey indicated preference for a community- and family-oriented plaza with additional restaurants, family-owned businesses, and a community gathering-place. They would also like to see more trees and shrubs, and they would like the police outpost to be removed from the Dominick’s Food Store.
Businesses
Dominick’s is the most frequented store in the plaza, according to the survey results – with 30 percent of respondents saying they shopped there – followed by Panino’s at 17 percent, and Dunkin’ Donuts-Baskin Robbins with 13 percent. Twenty-one percent said they would like to see more restaurants. Further refined at the town hall meeting, the preferences were for healthier eateries and ethnic eateries, such as a Jewish deli or a Haitian restaurant. Those attending the town hall meeting also voiced preferences for family-owned businesses, pet daycare, a thrift store or second-hand store, a drop-in play center, entertainment venues and an art gallery.
Community Space
Seventy-two percent of the respondents said they would like to see community space – either meeting space or outdoor space such as park benches, a playground or green space – in the plaza. Residents said they would like the plaza to be pedestrian-friendly and eco-friendly – with bike racks, for example. They would like more landscaping, a community market, or a gathering-place for concerts.
“The vision that many in the community share [for the plaza], especially those who live in the surrounding neighborhoods, is of a genuine public plaza, where friends, families and neighbors gather for shopping, dining, entertainment and civic engagement,” the project team analysis concluded. The group also endorsed a tax-increment financing (TIF) district for the area and urged “interested citizens to continue to engage the City, Bonnie Management Corporation and one another to advocate for their vision of a thriving, green, community-oriented Evanston Plaza.”
A community space can incorporate ecological and democratic equity in its design, said Dr. Eberhard of the Leadership Evanston group that looked at the plaza.
Although the work of Leadership Evanston is completed, he said, “a few members of the group remain interested in doing what we can to see this vision realized.”

Leadership Evanston Kibitzes on Vision for Evanston Plaza

A group from the most recent Leadership Evanston class took Evanston Plaza, the shopping center at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, as its project.””We were looking at the issue of socioeconomic disparity in Evanston and decided to focus on Evanston Plaza, said Tim Eberhard, one of the project group members. Leadership Evanston is a multi-week course offered to Evanston residents and employees to acquaint them with the community and its challenges.Interest in the project arose from the fact that some in the group live near the shopping center and from recognition that a revitalized plaza would enhance the community, Dr. Eberhard said. The Leadership Evanston project was designed to “”give the community a voice in envisioning what that space could be,”” he added.The Leadership Evanston project group held a town hall meeting about the plaza on April 29 at Perla Café, attended by about 30 residents. An online survey by the project group, distributed through various community list-servs, drew 183 respondents, 26 percent of whom were 2nd Ward residents.