From left, Frank Schwab of Schwab Realty and Frank Chilelli and Lou Tenuta of Valli Produce describe their plans for Evanston Plaza. RoundTable photo

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An appreciative audience of about 80 people listened to a presentation about changes coming in late spring or early summer to Evanston Plaza. Lou Tenuta and Frank Chilelli of Valli Produce – nephews of Valli founder Alfredo Presta – together with Frank Schwab of Schwab Realty & Development, described in broad sweep what they plan to do with the plaza, which Valli purchased earlier this year.

The plans include a 70,000-square-foot Valli Produce grocery store in – and beyond – the space vacated last December by Dominick’s Food Store. This will be the sixth location for the family-owned grocery business; the company owns three other shopping plazas in which its stores are located – in Hoffman Estates, Arlington Heights and Glendale Heights.

Asked what kinds of food would be sold in the grocery store, Mr. Chilelli said everything would be fresh or new. “We cater our business to the community. … I’m the buyer. I go to the market every day, six days a week. … Our motto is very simple: high quality at the right price. … If we get a good deal, we pass it along. That’s our niche – a top-end store that offers top-end service.

“Our values are top-notch – brand names and very high-end

. We make money on small margins by moving the product quickly. With fresh [produce, etc.] there is less waste.”

“How will you find out the kinds of foods people want?” asked Judith Treadway.

“We’ll start with the demographics and adjust as we hear customer comments,” said Mr. Chilelli.

“We’re not like Dominick’s – we’re right on the spot and will take requests,” added Mr. Tenuto.

“We will have prepared foods: sandwiches, hot foods, salads,” said Mr. Chilelli. “No sit-down section,” he added in response to a question. “We do take up a lot of space with fruits and vegetables.”

Mr. Schwab said the large grocery store would not necessarily generate more truck traffic but that the trucks would be larger and require “more off-loading time” in the rear docks.  The hours of operation will be from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the summer and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the winter; Sunday closing in any season is one hour earlier.

As for the rest of the shopping plaza, “We’re looking to do community-based development and redevelopment,” said Mr. Schwab. He declined, however, to name any prospective tenants.

In answer to other questions, Mr. Chilelli and Mr. Tenuto said the grocery store will offer organic food and will hold a job fair as things progress. There will be new landscaping, said Mr. Schwab, but he said he “can’t speak in specifics.”

During the winter months, Mr. Schwab said, residents may use the parking lot if they cannot park on the streets, but he asked that they park as far away from ongoing businesses as possible.

Mr. Schwab said the new owners have a “vital interest” in seeing the shopping plaza succeed. The grocery store has a 25-year lease, and, since Valli has purchased the plaza, “The restrictions on leasing [placed by Dominick’s] are no longer in existence.” Spontaneous applause followed that comment.

“That’s one of the reasons we bought [the shopping plaza]. Owning the mall gives us the freedom to do what we want. … When we started negotiating with Bonnie [the former management company], they said [we could not do certain things]. We said, ‘Why do you own this property?’ They said, ‘Buy it.’ And we did,” Mr. Chilelli said.

The shopping plaza is the sole property in the Dempster/Dodge tax-increment financing (TIF) district created in 2013. In a TIF district, the property tax is “frozen” at the level at the original date of the TIF. During the life of the TIF, typically 23 years, any increment in the tax revenue can be used for improvements to the TIF – such as water, sewer or other infrastructure work. The two downtown garages are examples of improvements made with TIF monies.

City Treasurer/Assistant City Manager Martin Lyons said the City projects TIF revenues to be around $20 million over the life of the TIF. “The most important year of a TIF is the first year, to get that snowball [of revenue] rolling down the hill,” Mr. Lyons said, adding, “The snowball hasn’t started yet.”

 “This gives us an opportunity to work together,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward. He suggested that the neighborhood improvement fund – a pot of money dedicated to neighborhood amenities – might be reconstituted “as part of a tax-revenue-sharing agreement.

“We want to spend [TIF] money on marketing and encouraging the property owners to put in what the community wants,” said Mr. Lyons.

Mr. Chilelli, Mr. Schwab and Mr. Tenuto told the RoundTable they did not wish to discuss how much money Valli would ask from the City.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable that the parties are “still in very initial stages of discussion.  Staff will likely propose a two-step funding process.  The first, probably for consideration by Economic Development Committee and City Council in January, would be funding directed specifically toward improvements at the grocery store. This would be in the $1.5 – $2 million range, using TIF funds.  A second request would be for larger center improvements that would be negotiated during 2015.  The second request would likely include multiple funding sources and additional issues of economic development cooperation between Valli and the City.” He added the City is “not certain” about what any additional funding would entail or what amount it would be.”