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City Council voted Monday night, July 13, to enter into negotiations with Smylie Brothers on plans to repurpose the former City recycling center at 2222 Oakton St. as a brewery with a tasting room and perhaps a restaurant. The proposed project and its team of designers and experts came in response to a Request for Qualifications for projects for that space.
The RFQ submission put together by Smylie Brothers convinced the City to skip a step. Generally, a Request for Proposal sent to development teams that pass the RFQ test follows the RFQ. Here, City Council voted to move directly into negotiations with Smylie Brothers.
Part of the reasoning is the success Smylie Brothers had in renovating the former state unemployment office, and before that, the Oak Street Market. Part of the reasoning came from the design team, including Warp Architecture, the group responsible for the design of Revolution Brewing’s space in Logan Square. Part came from the sustainability aspects, as Smylie’s concept seeks a building that is as close as possible to a net producer rather than a user of energy. Finally, part of the reasoning comes from the close alignment of the City’s goals for the recycling space – an entertainment and dining venue – with the expected Smylie proposal.
The City’s decision did not come without dissent from the public. Several speakers pointed out the proximity of the venue to youth sports at James park. John Berkley of Evanston AYSO said an “outdoor beer garden overlooking youth playing fields” was inappropriate. He also spoke of the scarcity of athletic fields in Evanston.
Others spoke of proposals to repurpose the Recycling Center as an indoor sports facility. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the City has been down that road before with a proposal that fell through because the indoor sports facility applicant could not get financing.
Ald. Rainey called on the City to “set aside uncalled for” and “unsubstantiated fears” and support the Smylie Brothers concept. The recycling center “is not going to become my ward’s Harley Clarke,” she added, referring to the uncertain future of the now-vacant mansion that housed the Evanston Art Center for 40 years. “We need to be grateful” for a proposal as sound as the Smylie Brothers proposal “and not make another mistake” like the one made by the City when it passed on Jennifer Pritzker’s plans to redevelop the mansion into a boutique hotel, she said.
The proximity to the park as well as Dawes School seemed a concern, but Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said Sketchbook Brewery is closer to Lincoln School than Smylie would be to Dawes, as are several restaurants that serve alcohol and have sidewalk cafes.
“The biggest piece for me is that they’re not asking for anything,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward.
Alderman Brian Miller, whose Ninth Ward is adjacent to the site but does not include it, was the lone “no” vote. “I don’t feel this is the best use for the property,” he said. He said City staff gave “short shrift” to other proposals, and presented the merits of only Smylie’s.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, long a supporter of an indoor sports facility in Evanston, said “I don’t disagree” that the Smylie project is not ideal for the space, saying it is “not the best [use], but there are things I just can’t have [and Smylie is] going to do an outstanding job. I do think it’s going to be a great success.”
Speaking to the RoundTable, Michael Smylie said the proposal is in the very beginning stages and details have not yet been worked out. He said the project team was also looking at the City’s lawsuit alleging trapped natural gas under James Park and possible contaminated water supply. The project is a long way from even beginning, but Council is almost fully on board.