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The move of the Evanston Arts Center (EAC) from the Harley Clarke mansion to its new home will continue through at least May 2015, and the City has been asked to provide additional financial assistance toward the move as it continues to unfold. The City Council’s Human Services Committee agreed to some of the requested relief but asked for more information before agreeing to all the requests.
The Arts Center sought four categories of relief. First, EAC sought the extension of its $1-per-year lease, of the mansion through May 2015. Second, EAC asked for a waiver of about $53,000 in construction permit, inspection and related fees charged by the City for the renovation of their new home at 1717 Central St. Third, EAC asked the City to “provide trash and recycling containers as the Arts Center vacates the mansion.” Fourth, EAC asked for cash to help them move.
Norah Diedrich, the Arts Center’s executive director, said allowing the EAC to remain through May would permit a spring term of classes before summer classes begin on Central Street.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asked whether the Illinois Department of Natural Resources would be ready to enter the mansion before the end of May, and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said those plans were likely for the mid- to late summer. With that information, the Committee readily agreed to the lease extension.
The Committee also quickly agreed to give EAC $5,000 toward the move and to pick up trash and recycling bins at Harley Clark in conjunction with the move. “I don’t consider this a major expense,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz, “but it is right to think about precedent” since other not-for-profit entities are likely to seek similar relief in the future.
The final request, for a waiver of building permit and related fees, proved more controversial. Ms. Diedrich said EAC is seeking a waiver of $53,000 in permit fees on its $1.8 million building project because EAC could use that money more effectively for other things.
According to the Evanston City budget, the City expects to collect $6.7 million in building permit fees in 2015. The City routinely collects huge building permit fees from tax-exempt entities such as Northwestern University.
“I think of all the fees that might be coming up for other not-for-profits,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward. “I certainly want to give some assistance with it,” but she suggested a percentage reduction and “not waiving all the fees.”
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, suggested that Council had “some precedent for the waiver of fees for other nonprofits.”
Mr. Bobkiewicz said that the last major not-for-profit construction project he could recall was the Evanston History Center’s Dawes House renovation. “No fees were waived,” he said, and building permits ran into “the many thousands of dollars.”
At least two aldermen appeared prepared to waive the fees completely. Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said, “For me, this is economic development. Forty-five thousand to fifty thousand dollars is not a whole lot to spend” given the development the Arts Center is expected to bring to Central Street.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said, “We have asked them to move, [so] we should give them the waiver.” She said she considered this waiver request a “one-time” and not precedent-setting waiver “unless we’re asking other organizations to leave City buildings.”
“There were a whole lot of circumstances involved with the ‘asked them to move,’ so I am not going to go there,” said Ald. Holmes. “I want to be above board and treat everybody the same way. Others are coming who will be asking for assistance. We need a policy… I want to be fair to [EAC], but I want to be fair to others who are coming behind them.”
“In a couple of months, Y.O.U. is going to be coming to us asking for something,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, referring to their proposed new building on Church Street. EAC is asking for what amounts to 2.8% of their $1.8 million construction budget, he said.
Ald. Grover suggested the committee hold the fee waiver matter until they receive more information as to waivers in the past, not-for-profit construction projects past, present and future, and perhaps an explanation as to why EAC needs a waiver.
The issue will return to Human Services in January. The remaining issues will most likely proceed straight to Council also in January.