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On Sept. 18, aldermen voted 7-2 to introduce an ordinance permitting City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to finalize the sale of the parking lot east of the main branch of the Evanston Public Library for $4 million. The sale would clear the way for an 11-story office tower to be built at the location.
The project is somewhat scaled down from its initial incarnation. The sale price was $5 million back in March, and the building taller, at 14 stories. The developer, represented by Greg Stec, said input from neighbors, including the Woman’s Club on Church Street and Frances Willard House on Chicago Avenue, led to a different proposal.
“They designed the building,” said Mr. Stec, gesturing toward the back of Council chambers, where members of the Woman’s Club congregated. The developer fired its architect and brought in a local architect, Paul Janicki, to re-vision the building, he said.
At public comment, speakers were divided on the project. John O’Malley said high-growth tenants look for newer office space, and Evanston has not had a new office building in a long time. “There’s not a lot of class-A office space in Evanston,” he said.
An estimated 500 employees would occupy the new building’s offices according to several speakers, and those workers would likely eat and shop downtown.
Rona Green-Taylor, current President of the Woman’s Club, said, “We believe we can work with this developer.” Other club members seemed somewhat less enthusiastic, with one saying, “We just don’t want to be harmed.”
Others were violently opposed, including Tricia Connelly, Claire Kelly, and others who said the City should never sell public land to developers. “Once it’s gone, it’s no longer in our hands,” said Ms. Connelly.
“I can’t even believe you’re even thinking about this,” said Ms. Kelly, adding there is “no need to degrade our City any more.”
Others questioned the process. Janet Steidl said the RFP (request for proposals) process, which produced three proposals from which the current proposal was selected, was flawed. She said changing the original price, $5 million for the 14-story building, to $4 million for the 11-story building, necessitated a new RFP. “Let’s push the reset button …” she said.
Others saw the benefit of increased tax revenue and increased economic activity. Once completed, the building would generate an estimated $2 million per year in property tax revenue from a parcel that currently generates no property tax revenue but does generate parking revenue. The sale of the parcel will produce an immediate $4 million, and building-permit fees are expected to add another $500,000 to $1 million.
Council members kept their opinions close, recognizing this first step – introduction of the ordinance – was just the beginning. No one made any comment or asked any questions at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, where aldermen voted 5-0 to forward the matter on to Council.
Bruce Larson, a member of the developer’s team, seemed to recognize the preliminary nature of Monday night’s vote. “We just want to start the process,” he said. “We’re asking for no City money, no guarantees – nothing from the City of Evanston.” He then referenced the 500 employees who would be working in the building “five days a week, maybe six. What we’ve asking for is to go through the process.”
The property would be deed-restricted so it could not be taken off the tax rolls by a non-profit. “It cannot be sold to Northwestern,” he said.
The vote to introduce was 7-2 with Aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, voting no.