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The RoundTable received the following answers to its recent question of this week to aldermanic candidates:
What three places in Evanston do you feel would be suitable for the Civic Center?
(Answers compiled, but not edited, by Mary Gavin)
Judy Fiske, 1st Ward
Returning city hall to the downtown is my choice. Locating city offices and meeting spaces in the central business district would create an important anchor that would benefit our small businesses and restaurants and help us rebuild the downtown economy post-COVID.
Over the past few years, delivery of many city services has changed from in-person to online, and while I believe it is important to keep most of our staff offices and meeting rooms in one central location, other services – for example parks & recreation – might be more conveniently located at Robert Crown.
What is clear is that our current building, although beautiful and impressive, does not work as a civic center. Even if we spent the $20 million that we have been told the building requires in repairs and also committed additional funds for its upkeep, it is far too large and expensive for the City’s needs.
It is time to make a decision, and my hope is that we can identify a developer who will commit to re-purposing the building and site for affordable housing while preserving the public park land and green spaces. I would consider that a win-win for the neighborhood and the city.
Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward
It’s time for us to leave the current building on Ridge. The City only uses 2/3 of the building (we rent the other 1/3 to not-for-profits). Originally designed as a school, its layout does not work well for an office building with public-facing functions.
Because of its age, maintenance/heating/cooling costs are significantly higher than in a modern, well-insulated office space. Moving from this structure will yield substantial cost savings and operational efficiencies, and provide a better customer experience for the public.
As to where we move, I strongly support moving the City’s operations downtown. Bringing hundreds of employees into our downtown core, along with the thousands of residents who regularly come to the Civic Center for all kinds of City business, will inject a powerful new economic stimulus into our downtown retail & restaurant districts. Additional “feet on the street” in our downtown, throughout the day and evening hours, are particularly needed in the wake of reduced downtown office activity caused by the COVID pandemic.
A modern, well-insulated building will substantially lower our maintenance costs, and reduce our energy footprint in keeping with our CARP (Climate Action Resiliency Plan) goals. And finally, proximity to our Davis St. transportation hub will improve accessibility for Evanstonians to their government.
Historically, the downtown area was the longtime home for our Civic Center. That choice made good sense then, and it’s the right choice for Evanston today.
Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward
It’s an interesting question. If it were just a matter of picking points on a map, I would say
- the current location on Ridge Avenue,
- somewhere downtown, and
- somewhere at or near Dempster and Dodge.
Obviously, it is a more complicated issue than just location. Would it make sense to be co-located with police and fire headquarters? Do all City functions need to be in one location or does it make sense to separate out public-facing and non-public facing employees?
What makes the most sense for the greatest number of residents from a transportation, parking and convenience perspective?
If it’s a matter of moving out of the current location – and I’m not saying that’s the way to go – will whatever is next be adaptable and appropriate for a dynamic city like Evanston or will we go halfway and face this question again sooner than we should?
As remote work has become more customary, is the City incurring unnecessary costs by providing offices to all the employees who have offices now?
Could we recruit and retain higher quality employees by offering remote work and what job categories would be appropriate for that?
As with any decision the City faces, the most important question is “What will it cost?”
I don’t feel that there is much appetite among my constituents for the City to spend a great deal of money on a new civic center, and I have heard skepticism that the purported economic impact of moving downtown would be realized.
If there is to be serious consideration of moving anywhere or discussion of the true costs of staying put, the community conversation needs to be focused, based in fact rather than conjecture or emotion, and abundantly public and transparent.
Mary Rosinski, 7th Ward
The question regarding three places for Our Civic Center to go is putting the cart in front of the horse. This issue requires an open community discussion with townhalls and input into the pros and cons of staying where it is vs. going somewhere else. Over the years there has been community opposition and referendums opposing such a move. We need to include the people and provide real information.
When I get a question like this, I wonder what is happening in the background. Will this be another Robert Crown financial fiasco without a clear budget, plans, will it be inclusive and accessible for the entire community? What is the long term plan? Which by the way, had the city had a long term plan for our City, they might have discussed incorporating parts of the Civic Center into that project provided that the residents were given full opportunity to know and discuss the costs, benefits and location was best for the community.
The current building allows for the space the City needs to hold small or large meetings, easy access and free parking for residents and employees. We have also invested millions in roof, elevators, bathrooms maybe we should look at how the City can be better stewards of our assets.
One of the questions which needs to be asked is why is staff and some Council members pushing the idea of moving. If the building is too big, then rent out spaces. If it needs work then develop a capital improvements plan rather than letting deferred maintenance make the decision.
This building is for the residents and staff and people coming to our town, we are ideally situated now that it is easy to access. I have heard that staff would like to move downtown. This strikes me a not a well thought out idea for a variety of reasons; along with the lakefront that is the most expensive land in Evanston, we should let downtown be commercial and get tax dollar, there has been talk of rent and fixing up a building near Fountain square. Why would we fix up someone else’s building? There has been talk that it will stimulate the downtown economy because staff and people coming to do business will visit. That plan might stimulate our parking ticket revenue. This answer to this question in up to the residents.
Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward
First of all, I want to say that I love the current Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. In 2007, I voted in support of the advisory referendum to retain and rehab the building.
Now there is discussion again about relocating the Civic Center. The current building has extensive capital needs, including for much needed upgrades to the HVAC and electrical systems and for security and other architectural modifications. The estimated cost: $12-$17 million.
Would the community be better served by relocating the Civic Center — and where might that new location be?
Locating the Civic Center in the downtown would have several advantages. It would bring more people (including City employees) into the downtown where they can shop, have lunch, and do other errands after conducting their city business. And the downtown is centrally located and well served by public transportation.
One suitable downtown location is on top of the city-owned Maple Avenue garage. That structure was built to support several additional floors. The site could accommodate a taller building since it backs up to the Metra tracks, with the tall senior living developments behind. There is ample parking on site (obviously), and a voucher program could offset parking fees for visitors to the Civic Center.
One other downtown site has been mentioned in the past as a possible location for the Civic Center, namely the “library parking lot.” This property has some of the same features: It is city-owned, and a voucher program at the nearby Church Street garage could offer a reasonable parking option for Civic Center visitors.
Much more information is needed before a decision can be made. In addition to questions of cost for each option, what other opportunities would selling the Civic Center property offer? A site for affordable housing, for example?