Rendering of the 1623 Simpson St. building from the City of Evanston  

Plans to improve two Fifth Ward locations in the vicinity of the Church Street and Dodge Avenue intersection received a unanimous go-ahead from the City’s Design and Project Review Committee on July 11. The plans, which pertain to 1623 Simpson St. and 1901-1903 Church St. /1700-1708 Dodge Ave., next head for the Economic Development Committee and eventually City Council in the weeks ahead.

The Church/Dodge location, owned by Soterios Frentzas, will receive an extensive renovation to its façade and corresponding interior improvements, according to plans submitted to the City by project architects, Studio Talo.

Among the planned renovations are masonry repairs, new awnings, and a new barber pole light and electrical work. The Simpson Street location, owned by Collin James, also has Studio Talo designing the renovations; improvements there include new storefront glazing and electrical work.

Architect Thomas Ahleman said that the projects moved forward after city officials found a gap on City maps that suggested that businesses in the Fifth Ward had not been utilizing available City resources for improvements.

“It was a terrific opportunity to help that part of Evanston, and it was a pretty straightforward project,” explained Mr. Ahleman, who praised City Economic Development Specialist Paulina Martinez for helping spearhead the project, which emerged from a program helping business owners maintain the public face of their buildings.

“They did some analysis of the distribution of these grants by the City, in a rigorous way, and they definitely found a ‘donut’ in the Fifth Ward, where businesses were not taking advantage of the program,” he noted. He added Alderman Robin Rue Simmons also took a lead role in securing additional assistance for the owners, who, under normal circumstances would have had to shoulder at least 50% of the costs of the renovations.

 The projects will each require the coordination of several “moving parts,” Mr. Ahleman said.

“At Church and Dodge, there are five different businesses,” he explained. “The thing about a façade is, it’s where the inside meets the outside. Once you tear up that storefront, you have to make sure that, once the inside gets touched, it gets put back the right way. [The Simpson location] was more straightforward, since there is just the restaurant and a space that is unoccupied. It was in a little better shape, and it was much clearer what needed to happen there.”

 Mr. Ahleman praised Ms. Martinez for what he called “herding the cats,” adding, “You had five business owners, two building owners and the alderman to get together. So we sat down and discussed everybody’s expectations … It was very productive and we made some revisions.”

The plan is out for bids, and the principals “hope to have the work done by the time it gets cold,” Mr. Ahleman said.

He further mentioned that he gave the City credit for implementing the study that pinpointed the funding gap, instead of just relying on anecdotal data to gauge the program’s effectiveness. That conscientiousness, Mr. Ahleman said, “is one of the reasons I love living in Evanston and working in Evanston.”