Window alcove at 1817 Church St. after rehab. Photo from City of Evanston packet

Since purchasing the property at 1817 Church St. for $1 and the promise of sweat equity to rehab it, the Evanston North Shore Contractors Cooperative LLC (the co-op) has refurbished the building by replacing most of the floors, upgrading the bathrooms, remodeling the kitchen and office spaces, adding 1,200 square feet, six skylights and a roof deck.

Gutting and rehabbing the building has taken more time and money than anticipated in the loan agreement the co-op signed with the City in 2012. Including the $200,000 loan from a tax-increment financing district (TIF) and a contribution of $10,000 from each member of the co-op, the cost of the rehab amounts to about $450,000, according to information the co-op provided to the City.

Weather and economic considerations prolonged the rehab time from the agreed-upon 18 months to 34 months. The harsh winter of 2013-14 prevented some work from being done, and, on the economic side, some of the co-op members took paying jobs, which delayed their sweat equity contribution to the project.

Further, the members of the co-op, most of whom are small companies or sole proprietors, have found they cannot operate the building as a “home repair and improvement/building trades cooperative,” as provided in the loan agreement. The co-op plans to lease the second and third floors to outside companies, rather than having its members occupy the entire space. Some members plan to have offices on the first floor; others may store their equipment there.

The co-op is current on its loan payments, co-op member John Leineweber told members of the City’s Administration and Public Works Committee on April 13. But the delay in completion and the decision to lease part of the building to outside parties put the co-op into non-compliance with the loan agreement.

The co-op says it has complied with other terms of the agreement: that 75% of the members be Evanston residents (and 9 of the 10 members live in Evanston); that the membership be at least 40% minority (four of the 10 members are minorities); and that members not be in arrears for tax payments or allow liens to accrue against the property. In addition, seven young men, six of whom are minorities, have gone through the apprenticeship program.

The agreement provides that the building could revert to the City if the co-op is not compliant with the terms of the agreement.

On April 13, the City Council voted to extend its right of reverter – that is, allow the co-op to continue – through February 2017 and to approve the use of the building requested by the co-op. The co-op appeared to be in compliance with many of the terms of the agreement, including employment, apprenticeships, minority participation, and Evanston-based business participation.

In extending the right of reverter, the City imposed the following additional responsibilities on the co-op: that it participate in the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program for three years; that the co-op members mentor three Evanston residents in an apprenticeship program for a period of six months each, through 2017; that the co-op members find other space to store their equipment and materials; that the co-op lease office space to the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse for two years at $500 per month; and that over the next two years the City be allowed to hold four meetings at no cost and that the co-op partner with other community businesses to implement workshops for mentoring and networking for people working to become contractors.

The measure was approved without comment on the Council’s consent agenda. At the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, held earlier that evening, aldermen praised the rehab efforts but asked for clarification about the prospective tenants.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said, “The top two floors are leased. How did you locate those tenants?”

“Through our marketing,” said Mr. Leineweber.

“There are contractors in the building; I don’t care who the tenants are,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “To me, not-for-profits are a bomb. I’m really tired of not-for-profits. Do these tenants relate to the high school?”

Mr. Leineweber said, “The tenants are SUPES Academy and PROACT Search. They search K-8 and 9-12 districts to seek out management for headhunters and design programming to train superintendents and principals. They have contracts with superintendents all over the country and have had contracts with New Trier and Evanston Township High School. They have an outreach program at Northwestern for interns.  They came with nine employees and expanded to 11; they want to grow to 18.”

Ald. Grover said they “sound like good tenants.”

“I used to attend meetings in this building in the late 70s and early 80s. It was a dump then. … On several occasions the City put out several proposals. After all these years, your group came along. … To think there are any criticisms of this effort is beyond me. It’s absolutely magnificent, compared to what we had,” said Ald. Rainey.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...