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Now that City Council has approved a tax-increment financing (TIF) district for the shopping plaza at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, it is time for collaboration among the plaza owners, the City and the residents. The City’s plan is to invest in cosmetics for the plaza – landscaping, canopy repair and other site work – in the belief that this will help the owners, Bonnie Management Inc., attract viable tenants. Various groups of residents and local business-owners have been meeting over the past year to articulate a vision for the plaza that would complement the surrounding area.
As residents of Evanston and business-owners in the West Village, where the plaza sits, we appreciate the City’s interest in this sometimes troubled and neglected shopping center. Neighbors and local businesses have tried to support the plaza. Many shop and eat there (including take-outs) frequently. A year ago, the City helped the local businesses host “Makin’ It Happen,” an art and business fair/open house to draw attention to the vitality and potential of the area.
A group from Leadership Evanston looked at the plaza for their project, conducting a survey of residents and interested parties and holding a town hall meeting, both to tease out the vision neighbors have for the plaza. That vision, as presented so far, is consonant with the neighborhood, the potential customers of the plaza.
People are listening, it seems. Alderman Peter Braithwaite has met with his Second Ward constituents about the plaza. He has also invited Scott Inbinder, principal of Bonnie Management, to meet with neighbors and local businesses. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has spoken with the Leadership Evanston group.
We understand that few can dictate what will happen on private property, so we applaud the openness Mr. Inbinder has demonstrated thus far. Still, there is going to be a significant investment – $2 million – of taxpayers’ money, so we hope that some of the neighbors’ suggestions about use of space and types of business will be considered.
Dempster-Dodge once held some thriving businesses, and those that remain are assets to the community. Adding landscaping, local businesses, complementary businesses and bike racks, and reconfiguring some of the parking area or other untenanted space into a friendlier plaza should not break the bank.
We are certain that the aldermen who voted to create the TIF, as well as the two who voted against it, are counting on real change. As are we.