Rendering of proposed 11-story office building at 1704-20 Chicago Ave., the present site of the library parking lot. Rendering from City of Evanston packet

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An 11-story office building with three floors of parking may replace the surface parking lot at 1714-20 Chicago Ave., known by many as the “library parking lot.” Only the height of the new building may be news, however, given earlier discussions held at public and private meetings after the City decided to sell the property for private development several months ago. The three-story Woman’s Club of Evanston abuts the property on the south, and to the north are the two-story buildings of the Frances Willard Historical Association.

At the April 14 Planning and Development Committee meeting, aldermen focused more on the design of the building than on the $4 million sale price, and the matter was forwarded, not unanimously, to City Council for introduction. At the Council meeting, aldermen unanimously approved the matter for introduction.

Several months ago, City Council authorized the City Manager to negotiate a contract with a developer to purchase the 32,000-square-foot lot. The City’s asking price was $5 million, and the stated preference was for an office building that would have “contextual and high-quality design.” The developer would also replace the 74 public parking spaces on the lot.

In September of last year, the City sent out a request for proposals and received three bids. In November, the City’s Economic Development Committee “approved a process that directed staff to work exclusively with one of the bidders, a development partnership consisting of Greg Stec, Bruce Larson, and Conor Commercial to gather community input prior to filing for the planned development approval process,” according to a memo from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, Assistant City Manager Martin Lyons, and Senior Economic Development Coordinator Paul Zalmezak.

The development team made presentations to members of the Woman’s Club of Evanston, the Frances Willard Historical Association, and nearby condominium associations, as well as at public meetings.

The developers later hired local architect Paul Janicki to redesign the building, in partnership with architectural firm Holabird & Root, to reflect the historical context. They also reduced the proposed height from 14 to 11 stories. As a result of the new proposed height, the development team – somewhat reconfigured – reduced its offer to $4 million.

Conor Commercial, who may remain general contractor, will not continue as a member of the development team, but Mr. Larson and Mr. Stec remain the leads on the team. Their company, which is likely to contain a joint-venture partner, will be called Self Purpose LLC.

The resulting design proposal shows a bracketed entry overhang that relates to the front of the Woman’s Club, three floors of parking screened from public view by a brick wall, and eight floors of office space. The developer would replace the 74 public parking spaces, but the City would approve a reduction of the parking spaces required by the zoning code.

The deed would contain a restriction in perpetuity so the property could not be sold to a not-for-profit or tax-exempt entity.

Among the public benefits listed is the opportunity to bring approximately 500 new office workers to the area and to retain local employers.

At the Planning and Development Committee meeting, which took place before the City Council meeting, Chava Wu of the Woman’s Club of Evanston said the club does support “a shorter building with a shorter price tag.” She said, though, that the Woman’s Club had been promised a green [landscaped] background, but with the present design, the view from the ballroom windows is of a brick wall.

Vickie Burke of the Frances Willard Historical Association and a representative of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union said, “The developers do not seem to have a track record working with historic buildings.”

During committee deliberations on the proposal, Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, asked that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz be aware of the concerns expressed by the Woman’s Club and WCTU representatives. Architect Mr. Janicki acknowledged that the brick wall was for the parking deck and said the landscaping would be on top of the deck that faced the Woman’s Club.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the property had not yet been sold. Ald. Miller asked, “Are we selling it in such a way that will upset the neighborhood?”

Mr. Bobkiewicz said, “This is at the early stage. We will come back with a negotiated agreement. We certainly have been aware of the concerns. As the seller, we will continue to be in touch with the Frances Willard Historical Association and the Woman’s Club of Evanston.”

The matter may appear on the April 28 City Council meeting, the last meeting for Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and for Aldermen Delores Holmes, Mark Tendam, and Brian Miller.

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...