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Looking back over the Evanston’s list of accomplishment this year, as the year draws to a close, it is impossible to overlook the list of non-accomplishments first. Project after project, program after program, building after building, in 2015, Evanston spun its wheels more than anything else.
Harley Clarke Mansion
Of course, any such list has to start with the never-ending saga that is the Harley Clarke mansion. The project has taken on a life of its own, dwarfing its real impact on the Evanston community, and highlighting the City’s inability to tackle something so inexplicably controversial. That is not quite accurate: it is the City’s inability to make a decision.
The year started with hopes. The State had not yet pulled the plug on the IDNR proposal that would have worked for everyone, turning the mansion into a coastal study center and resource. The State officially pulled the plug Jan. 5, leading to a committee, a committee report, dueling aldermanic proposals, and finally a vote to table the matter indefinitely pending a State budget.
The issue is, therefore, back in limbo, where it will remain into 2016.
Harley Clarke was not alone. Other projects long on City Council’s radar came up in 2015, and arguments could be made that the City took steps to advance these projects. “Advancing” a project is a long way from beginning one, however. A look at some examples follows.
Robert Crown Center
The renovation of the Robert Crown Center has been under discussion for years, if not decades. The decrepit building, the City says, must be substantially renovated or replaced before it sinks into the ground and springs even more leaks.
As 2015 ends and 2016 begins, there are no firm plans for Robert Crown. A consultant has been hired to determine whether private funds could be raised to complete the project. Robert Crown sits right where and in the same condition it was Jan. 1, 2015.
Recycling Center, Fountain Square, Performing Arts
The City’s Recycling Center, long the subject of redevelopment rumors, sits right where it was in January, with no plans and no useful purpose other than storage. A proposal by Smylie Brothers brewery to adapt the building remains in limbo as the year ends.
Fountain Square has aged but otherwise looks the same as it did in January. Plans are afoot, as they have been for years, for a new Fountain Square. They remain plans.
A new downtown Performing Arts Center has progressed past the four or five consultant study phase, it seems. A site has been selected and largely agreed upon, and an anchor tenant, Northlight Theater, has come forward supporting the proposal. But beyond discussions and a City supportive of the idea, the theater remains unplanned and unbuilt.
Speaking of theaters, the Eighth Ward’s long proposed Howard Street theater has not been built and there are no plans. A theater group, Strawdog, has been identified as anchor tenant, but beyond that plans are still “in the works” – a redundant chapter in the story of 2015.
A new, accessible, year-round path traverses the Ladd Arboretum, with asphalt replacing the old, old, old crushed stone pedestrian path. The new path is eight feet wide, accommodating bicycles, wheelchairs and crowds of school children.
A bright green bike lane down Dodge Avenue is on hold because, according to the City, no contractor could be found willing to bid on the project. It remains to be seen whether 2016 will be different.
Neighbors welcomed new grocery stores on Green Bay Road (the City’s third Whole Foods) and in Evanston Plaza (Valli Produce), both replacing Dominick’s stores. Speaking of grocery stores, the City implemented its long-awaited plastic bag ban. As a result, shops across the City have replaced the flimsy, filmy plastic bags once used to carry groceries with thicker, weightier plastic bags. Plastic bags are still here – they are just of better quality.
The shuttered BooCoo Cultural Center reopened as the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Arts Center. Programming offered is similar to that offered by BooCoo, and now the facility is City-owned and City-run.
Regulating Guns and Cabs
The City continues to wrestle with ways to enact common-sense gun control when the Supreme Court will not allow an outright ban on guns. Changes to gun laws were actually passed by City Council as a result. Those changes permit gun ranges in very limited areas, and gun shops only within those gun ranges. The impact will be nonexistent in coming years – Evanston had no gun shops or gun ranges in 2015, and that will almost certainly continue in 2016 and beyond.
Other efforts at change went nowhere. Attempts to regulate Uber and other ride-sharing programs failed absolutely, as did a proposal to regulate bicycle-powered pedicabs.
At the end of the year, one common refrain remained: the State has no budget, and taxpayers owe lots of money to pension funds. Two things that will likely flow into 2016 are complaints about Springfield, and rising taxes to pay for pensions.