Aerial view of proposed 601 Davis development. The University Building is immediately to the east.Rendering from materials presented by Vermillion developers to City of Evanston

Residents of the Fourth Ward as well as other Evanstonians gathered at Evanston Public Library on Aug. 6 to hear proposals for developing locations at 601 Davis St. and 1020 Church St. Both proposals were scaled-back versions of projects that had stalled previously.

The Davis Street location is another try at developing what has been a problematic parcel for both developers and the City; a previous proposal for a 33-story tower failed. The 1020 Church Street location is a scaled-down revision from Skokie-based Northlight Theatre that, if it proceeds, would see that group relocate to Evanston, where it originated.

Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson opened the meeting by emphasizing that the project principals, among them Chicago-based Vermilion Development and Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) on the Davis Street project, were presenting the information for the first time, and were looking for community feedback before the more formal proposals began winding through the City’s development and planning process.

The Davis Street project would be located at a site – now occupied by the University Building, a vacant lot and a Chase Bank drive-through – that Cary Dixon of Vermilion said was woefully underutilized. He noted, for example, that such a large footprint for the drive-through was now unnecessary at a time when direct-deposit and online banking are common.

The 18-story building as currently planned would contain about 220,000 square feet of leasable office space, as well as two retail locations at the ground level, said Mr. Dixon. The University Building would be preserved and an offset entry plaza would be developed immediately west to mitigate the shift in scale from a two-story building to a much taller one. Mr. Dixon added that portions of the building would be scaled to varying heights in order to to maintain the scale of buildings in proximity with the Vermilion project.

The building would have about 40 parking spaces, Mr. Dixon said, noting that the small number is in keeping with current trends in office construction. He further added that the entry plaza would have ample bike parking and that the location is close to public transportation.

Northlight Executive Director Tim Evans led the discussion on the Church Street project. His group, in conjunction with developers, proposed a project in 2018 that stalled when many Evanstonians opposed a large-scale luxury residence and hotel that would sit atop the theater.

“We heard everybody, and we really want to come back to Evanston,” Mr. Evans said. “This is our third try, and we felt like we wanted to take it on ourselves.”

The owners of the 1020 Church St. location are interested in selling, and some of the restaurant locations there are struggling, he added. He noted that The Barn Steakhouse would stay in place. The proposed Northlight building would not require rezoning, as the location is already zoned for entertainment use, and would not require excessive variances for height.

The space would have theater seating for about 300 theater-goers. Mr. Evans emphasized that he envisioned the space being “downtown Evanston’s living room” and readily available as a gathering spot for the public. The Chicago-based firm Eckenhoff Saunders is the principal architect on the project.

“We’ve created a theater … that we think Evanston can be proud of,” Mr. Evans said.

By Ellen Galland

Design Evanston, a group of local design professionals, attended a presentation by Vermilion Development and SCB, Architect, of the proposed 601 Davis Office Building on June 25. Below is a summary of Design Evanston’s Standards (in bold) and related comments about the proposed project:

Standard 1. A project should address a perceived need in the City/community.

DE comments: The present office vacancy rate is reported to be 6%, a record low. The need for Class A office space in the downtown is very high. More office workers will benefit downtown services.

Standard 2. A project should provide for a beneficial and appropriate use in the project’s geographical context.

DE comments: The site of the project is a highly appropriate site for the development of an office tower. The site is at the center of the downtown’s concentration of office space. The site is close to mass transit and services for office workers.

Standard 3. The project should be of appropriate and complementary size, scale and proportion for its respective physical context.

DE comments: The scale of the proposed building is appropriate for its central location. The street level entry to the tower could be more accentuated. The differing materials utilized at the north side of the building where the service core is located break up the scale of the tower in a positive way. A taller slenderer building might also work in this location. The base of the building relates well to the scale and height of the adjacent University Building and the height of storefronts of historic buildings across Davis Street.

Standard 4. The project should be representative of progressive, creative and sustainable design standards.

DE comments: The materials utilized on the tower represent the latest developments in curtainwall glass technology. The building will achieve at least LEED Silver status (based on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system). The typical office floor area of about 15,000 square feet is ideal for a variety of tenant layouts. The building base of two stories provides retail space and conceals the second-floor parking. The design reflects the progressive nationwide trend for fewer parking spaces in downtown office buildings. There are City-owned, underutilized parking garages nearby. The rooftop of the second-floor base will be developed for amenity use. This area will also mitigate wind down-drafts from affecting street-level activity. The first three floors of the building will be composed of “bird-friendly” materials.

Standard 5. The project should provide for present and future economic growth.

DE comments: The injection of 200,000 square feet of new office space into the downtown will have a major impact on the vitality of downtown businesses and services.

Standard 6. The project should have a high revenue generating / infrastructure cost ratio.

DE comments: The downtown infrastructure has the capacity to serve the facility, particularly more so since sewer improvements along Sherman Avenue were completed. The impact of vehicles emanating from the building is minimal given the few number of parking spaces provided in the building and the fact that this traffic will only occur at the beginning and end of each day. The revenue generated will be significant. The increased availability of desirable office space can also attract new residents to Evanston.

Standard 7. The project should provide for a positive experience at the street / sidewalk / pedestrian level.

DE comments: The design of the base of the building is an appropriate scale at the street level. Landscaping and materials discussed would accentuate the pedestrian scale of the design. A portion of the east end of the south elevation of the tower could meet grade, where the entrance to the tower is located, to create a small scaled plaza area between the university building and the tower. The alley area may need further improvement.

Standard 8. The project should complement the practices and goals of “Complete Streets” (a transportation policy and design approach that encourages safe street access for all users, not just cars) and encourage multi-modal transportation use.

DE comments: The provision of minimal vehicle parking encourages the use of other modes of transportation. The design provides for a bicycle entry from the front sidewalk and provides a large bicycle storage room on the first floor.

The Chase drive-thru has been reduced to one lane so there will be less impact on the sidewalk and bike lanes.