The police outpost at 633 Howard St. has outlived its usefulness in that location according to Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and will be replaced by a new coffee shop and coffee bean roaster to be opened by the owner of La Macchina restaurant, Christopher Casas. The outpost is not leaving Howard Street entirely, but moving a few yards west to 645 Howard St., decreasing from its current 2,700 square feet down to 800 square feet.
The City picks up the tab on all fronts, paying for the improvements to the coffee shop, about $15,000; improvements to the new outpost space, about $18,000; rent at the new police outpost, $1,000 per month; and charging no rent to the coffee shop for the first two years of the five-year term of the lease. Funding comes from the Howard Street tax-increment financing (TIF) district and rents collected from Peckish Pig and Ward Eight.
A coffee shop completes “the beginning of the vision for the community a long time ago” on Howard Street, said Ald. Rainey, by adding a morning and daytime destination business to the Ward Eight cocktail lounge and Peckish Pig evening and nighttime destinations on that stretch. “Now we have a place where people can go during the day,” she said.
The City did not go looking for a tenant to occupy the outpost building, said Ald. Rainey. “Chris [Casas] didn’t have to be begged. He saw the vibe and came to us,” she said.
“This does make it an all-day destination,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, about the stretch of Howard Street around Callan Avenue. “There’s something about this little hub that we’re looking to create down on Howard Street.”
Revival continues across the street on the Chicago side, said Ald. Rainey, as an expansion of the Church Street Aguas Tacos is scheduled to open there shortly. “We tried to get him on our side,” she said, but the owner chose Chicago.
Mr. Casas previously owned and operated coffee bars in Evanston between 2002 and 2009. In 2013, he opened Coffee Speed Shop coffee bean roaster and focused on roasting beans. The new shop will be a more interactive experience, he said. “There’s a lot to coffee. I’d like to be able to talk to customers about how I roast coffee.” Roasting will take place in the open allowing the public to see, smell and hear the process.
“I can’t tell you how welcome you are,” said Ald. Rainey, describing what she called overwhelming community support for the concept among neighbors along Howard Street and throughout her ward.
The coffee shop will be paying property taxes which, according to Ald. Rainey and the staff memo will be the first time in the building’s history that it will hit the tax rolls. When it was built, it was a small tax-exempt synagogue. “To have property that has never been on the tax rolls to be put on the tax rolls” is exceptional, she said.
Because the property has never been assessed, the staff memo stated that any property tax impact is only an estimate. Based on the assessment of commercial buildings of similar square footage, staff believes the tax burden will be about $11,530 per year. Evanston receives approximately 20% of collected property taxes with the remainder going to the school districts, Cook County and other taxing districts.
The new police outpost takes over for Apple the Second, a closed clothing boutique. Ald. Rainey said the building was the original location for the Howard Street police outpost but the City was “unceremoniously evicted because we refused to pay rent because of roaches.” That was two landlords ago, she added. “We are helping out another Evanston property owner” by signing the lease. “We are going back from whence we came.”
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, voted no to the coffee shop subsidy without speaking on the issue. He has long indicated a philosophical opposition to supporting individual private businesses with City funds, particularly when the subsidy was not advertised to all possible tenants.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, joined Ald. Wilson in voting no to the new police outpost lease. Neither Ald. Wilson nor Fiske opposed suspending the rules for immediate passage because of the length of time between Dec. 8 and the next Council meeting, Jan. 15.
Perhaps now that the beginning of the vision for Howard Street has been achieved, there will be no need for further subsidies.