Rendering of proposed building at 601 Davis St.    From City of Evanston materials.

A developer proposing to replace a vacant lot and a bank drive-through in downtown Evanston was scheduled to appear before the City’s Plan Commission after this paper went to press on Nov. 29. Dave Cocagne of Chicago-based Vermilion Enterprises, which is developing the site, met with the RoundTable beforehand to describe the proposed project.

The proposed development would go up at 601 Davis Street and, if approved, would be, at 33 stories, the tallest building in the City. A proposal discussed earlier in the fall by the developers for the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue, which was in the very initial planning stages, would be higher, at 37 stories.

Mr. Cocagne said the location is blighted and will be significantly improved by the proposed building.

“We’re putting it back into productive economic use,” he said. “At the same time, we’re enhancing and preserving a historic structure; the University Building, which is located immediately to the east, is staying.  Not only that, but some dollars that are generated by the project will be invested in upgrading that building to make sure that it is commercially viable for the next 100 years.”

The project would contain 318 residential units. It would also include 176 parking spaces and around 7,400 square feet of ground floor commercial space. The types of residential units would include studio, junior one-bedroom, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units, ranging in size from 505 to 1,515 square feet. More than 40% of the units would have two or three bedrooms. 

Vermilion seeks allowances for the number of dwelling units, building height, floor-area ratio, number of parking spaces, number of loading docks, a curb cut for a drive-through between the building and the street right-of-way, and a ziggurat setback.

“Certainly, at a time when the City has some budgetary constraints, we’re contributing from an economic perspective, in both the short- and long-term, namely in the form of permit fees – about $1.6 to $1.7 million – and about $2 million in estimated sales and real estate taxes,” said Mr. Cocagne. “It does have some nice benefits from an economic-impact perspective.” 

Mr. Cocagne said that Vermilion’s compliance with affordable-housing rules would be “unique and serve a broad population.” 

The complex would contain four affordably-priced units and the developers would contribute $1.5 million to an Evanston nonprofit assisting persons who are unstably housed and experiencing homelessness, he said.

“What we sought out to do was really find a way to have an impact in Evanston,” Mr. Cocagne said. “What emerged from that was a pool of resources that would create a rental-assistance program that would serve, in this case, families in the Evanston school system. … What we would do is provide a portion of those dollars to help families, not only with finding and paying for housing, but also providing wrap-around services, like educational programs and financial literacy classes. That provides not just a place to live but helps them move up the socio-economic ladder. There would also be some dollars going towards homelessness prevention. While there are some programs today, they’re very limited, since the state and federal funds have a lot of restrictions.”

Mr. Cocagne maintained that the programs, in tandem with the onsite units, would benefit the community more than if only affordable units were supplied. He added, “We can deliver those supports a lot more quickly. Onsite units take two to three years to deliver … With the program, we can put those resources to work as soon as we break ground next year.”

Provided the Plan Commission approves the proposal, Vermilion would take the plan before the City Council in early 2018.