On April 24, City Council voted down a proposal to replace the surface parking lot at 1714-20 Chicago Ave. – often referred to as the “library parking lot” – with an 11-story office building with three stories of parking.
The final vote was 6-2, with Alderman Judy Fiske (1st) and Delores Holmes (5th) voting in favor of the proposal. The proposal had been advanced by the Council Planning and Development Committee on April 14.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz was authorized last year to negotiate a contract with a developer to replace the 32,000 square-foot lot. The building was to have “contextual and high-quality design.”
During public comments, a number of community members spoke about preserving the historical nature of the buildings on the project’s perimeter, even suggesting that the district had the potential to become a day-tourism destination. The three-story Woman’s Club of Evanston abuts the property on the south, while the two-story buildings of the Frances Willard Historical Association are to the north.
Lori Osborne, director of the Evanston Women’s History Project, said that the location reflected “ground-zero for women’s history in Evanston. The intact structures there … make a highly concentrated area [representing] women’s history in Evanston. And not just Evanston history, it’s Illinois history, U.S. history, even world history. These are important places, and to alter them in a way that could damage their significance? We need to think about that seriously.”
Ms. Osborne also noted that there are few American locations representing women’s history that are as well-preserved as the Willard campus.
Interior designer Janet Steidl said that the City needed to more closely study the alley next to the site, and said that some of the images used to represent the project have been misleading. She maintained that the vantage points utilized in those images were much higher than were normal in such renderings, and thus represented views most people would never see.
“There are other sites where the Council can act to further underscore Evanston’s urban nature, but not here,” said Ms. Steidl.
Prior to the vote, Council members suggested that the City and developers need to consider the historical nature of the site as much as its economic footprint.
“I do think that we haven’t explored all the potential for the lot,” said Ald. Mark Tendam (6th).
Ald. Don Wilson (4th) urged Council members and others to visit the site. “Unless you really do it, you can’t really appreciate the things that they have there. I look forward to this being a collaborative effort that …enhances what we have on the block.”
Ald. Brian Miller (9th) noted, “I have not gotten a single call, email, [or] anything from anyone who supports building anything on the site.”
Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) suggested that the City should sponsor an architecture competition, which she said could even be national or international in scope, for the site to reach its highest and best uses.
“Consider what’s there now and bring us back your most brilliant ideas,” she said.