The City should consider the unexplored opportunities offered by the library parking lot and take time in deciding what to do there.

The Opportunity

Evanston’s downtown districts are developed to a point that remaining vacant lots and properties suitable for demolition or adaptive reuse are few. Some of these sites carry with them unique considerations that, in the proper light, can be seen as exciting opportunities.

The City-owned property at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave. (library parking lot) is one such property.

This property should be developed. However, its real potential has yet to be realized by any proposal or broad public discussion. The biggest stakeholders are members and patrons of the surrounding buildings: Woman’s Club of Evanston, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Francis Willard House Museum and Evanston Public Library.

Sadly, these organizations have been marginalized by some Council members and developers lacking sensitivity toward Evanston’s rich history and long-term economic development goals.

Historic Preservation

Our women’s history is not just a local story. For over 150 years Evanston women have been national leaders in women’s rights – often copied by women’s rights leaders in movements worldwide.

This leadership was recently acknowledged in the selection of Evanston as the consolidated home of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union – creating the Center for Women’s History and Leadership. Including the Woman’s Club of Evanston these six buildings have received the rare designation as a National Women’s History District.

Principles of Design

All disciplines of design share one principle: the objective development of a problem solving methodology. The City’s Request for Proposal for 1714-1720 Chicago stating minimum development requirements is simply a starting point.

Beyond this, an infusion of creativity and comprehensive thinking can yield plans for a building that will be a landmark upon completion – not an historic landmark – but a landmark in Evanston’s effort to revitalize downtown and preserve its historic past.

The proposal currently under consideration states that a development within the lot’s residential designation is not financially feasible. The proposal goes on to say that even with a map amendment changing the parcel’s designation from residential to downtown the project requires significant variations from the code to accommodate large increases in height and mass.

In addition, the proposal makes little attempt to rationalize its lack of public benefits and responds to many of the City’s questions with “…not in the building program” and “…will be developed once the project is approved.”

There is no rush to develop 1714-1720 Chicago Ave. On the books it is a multi-million dollar City asset either as property or cash. No private property owner is being held in limbo.

The biggest ask here is patience – more time to generate the proposal this special site deserves. There may be need for better understanding of the importance of our women’s history. If interested, begin with a quick read of the Chicago Tribune’s recent Bicentennial Bucket List of 200 must-see places.

Going Forward

We must examine our commitment to a woman’s history that clearly sets us apart from most cities in America. We must consider the value of National Women’s Historic District and the type of new development that would celebrate it.

A new construction that attempts to look like it is part of an existing historic district violates basic principles of historic preservation. A strong delineation between old and new is foremost – simplicity is preferable. A lobby or parkway dedicated to women’s history would be an undeniable statement of our commitment.

In recent years we’ve witnessed the opening of two highly coveted retail business – the direct results of proactive efforts by Evanston’s economic development team.

Outstanding efforts and results like these need not be limited to retail development. Since we’ve figured out the way to attract much desired and appropriate development, let’s show the world we have the will to do it again at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave.

Mr. Tendam, a graphic designer, is a former Sixth Ward alderman.