A five-story, 120-unit rental building would go up on the site currently occupied by Vogue Fabrics, 718 Main St., under a proposal that received its first public airing last week.
Members of the development team gave the public an early look at their proposed development at a Fourth Ward community meeting on Oct. 15.
Vogue Fabrics, a family-run business that first located in the area in 1945, is looking at relocating, said Rogie Sussman Faber, one of the family members, speaking at the meeting held via Zoom.
She said the family is looking “to combine our retail store for Main Street, and our warehouse on Hartrey into one location – kind of like a Sam’s Club of fabrics. We would have the retail and the wholesale all in one place – an open floor plan, central checkout.”
In order to do that, she said, “we need to release our properties and move on to a better facility for us. So that kind of started us on this on this journey.
“If you’ve been in our store lately,” she continued, “you know that the layout is not efficient. The layout is not conducive to the way people shop today. The building is obsolete. The floors need to be replaced. So anybody who comes in to build something new, they’re not going to take the building as is – they’re not going to buy the building, and put money into putting in new floors and that kind of thing. They’re going to tear it down – they will put up something that’s more efficient and more conducive to how people live in today’s world.”
Paul Dincin, a managing partner with Catapult Real Estate Solutions, a member of the development team on the project, grew up in Evanston, attending Nichols School right around the corner.
In his time, he said while he has seen a lot of development east of the tracks contributing to the vibrancy of the area – “it’s possibly 100 years since really anything’s been developed west of the tracks on Main Street. That’s a long time. And I think it’s an opportunity again to, to take that risk and try and do something,” he said.
The team’s plans call for a five-story mixed use building with room for two retail shops fronting Main Street.
The building would house a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units for rents 60% of the area median income (AMI), developers said in their proposal. Ten percent of the units will be affordable.
The project will not use any Tax Increment Finance as other large scale developments in Evanston have done, thus increasing the taxable basis of the development by over twice the current taxes as now, they said.
Some residents raised concerns about parking and the tenant- market the development was focusing on in their first response to the project.
A transit-oriented development
The developers initial design calls for 47 parking spaces.
Andy Ahitow, handling the leasing of space for the building, said the parking should be sufficient for tenants in the building.
The site is located within walking distance short of entrances to the CTA and Metra lines – one of the few places in the Chicagoland area with that distinction, he noted.
That falls in line with the clientele the development hopes to attract, he said.
“A lot of young renters today – a lot of renters, period – are looking to eliminate their cars to eliminate that cost,” he said. “If we can create a property in an area that has access to transportation, people [who] don’t need a car and can afford to live their life in a better way – they’ll use a bike, they’ll use the train – maybe a scooter, or whatever mode of transportation that they prefer,” he said of the need to provide less parking on premises.
Some speakers at the virtual meeting who live in residences adjacent to the Main Street district challenged that point of view.
“You know, parking in our neighborhood right now is very, very tight to begin with,” said Jeff Harlow, one of the speakers, told the developers. “You know my daughter came by our house tonight, couldn’t find the space on the street. Your units aren’t going to have parking spaces. How is that going to work?
“I’ve lived here for 35 years. I’m well aware of where the train stations are. I’m [also] well aware of how crowded it is already, and you’re talking about bringing in 120 units.”
Mr. Ahitow maintained that team members have also talked to a number of people in the area, finding some blocks that were underused. In addition, he said developers have identified two lots “for ancillary parking for our property if need be.”
Susan Pearson, another area resident listening in on the Zoom meeting, described herself as “generally in support of this development, though “super sad” at the same time to see Vogue Fabrics go.
A project of “retail and apartments is appropriate for the neighborhood in many ways,” she said. “I do think that a condo building would stabilize property values more than a rental building would. I also wonder about the choice of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedrooms, versus any kind of larger units that might attract families.”
On that concern, Fourth Ward Alderman Donald Wilson, conducting the meeting, asked developers a question he said he often gets asked offline – whether they were in a position to reassure people that this is [not] going to be marketed to students.
“I know that that’s always a concern with a new building that has a lot of studios – there’s a concern that it will be marketed to large groups of unsupervised students,” he said.
Mr. Ahitow’s response was, “Our goal is to build a building with young professionals,” and maintained Northwestern University students in this case would not be their primary advertising target.
The proposal still has a considerable way to go. The developers are expected to appear before the City’s Design & Project Review Committee in a few weeks.
At the meetings, staff members from various City departments comment on how various elements of a new development meet established criteria and sometimes suggest changed.
The proposal would also have to go before the City Plan Commission as well as eventually full City Council, where aldermen have final say on approval.