Evanston’s Main-Dempster Mile area has been thriving over the last decade, and a potential new light installation may help a few of its more than 200 businesses flourish after dark while creating a new gathering space in the city.

Festoon lighting – overhead strings of big bulbs, often seen in cafes, big event halls and at weddings – could shine above part of Dempster Street, but the festive glow doesn’t come cheap.

Katherine Gotsick, Executive Director of the Main-Dempster Mile organization, came up with the pitch: The festoon lighting would hang over the 500 block of Dempster, east of Chicago Avenue, and debut before the holidays if approved at the city Design and Project Review Committee (DAPR) meeting Wednesday, Oct. 13.

The Main-Dempster Mile Special Service Area is funded by taxes on business and commercial property along part of Main Street, Dempster and Chicago Avenue. Gotsick said that because COVID-19 meant fewer events were held over the last year, more money remained in the budget that could be dedicated to the festoon lighting.

“It would be really hard to sustain it forever, but if it turns out to be a huge hit, then funds will have to be allocated to it,” she said.

Although the Main-Dempster Mile organization wouldn’t provide seating for under the lights, many businesses in the area already have sidewalk cafes, leaving opportunities for after-dark outdoor seating. With the lighting, a new community space for late-night gatherings would be created, as well as a picturesque atmosphere.

During the summer months, Main and Dempster had significant construction, at the same time as businesses were trying to bounce back from COVID-19.

An overhead view shows proposed festoon lighting in the 500 block of Dempster Street. (Image from Main-Dempster Mile proposal)

“The goal of it is to make the area a place that is even more delightful for people to come to and they think about it when they want to go out,” Gotsick said. “So many businesses are emerging from COVID-19 and with the major construction this year, there have been obstacles. We want all Evanstonians to find a charming place to hang out and do multiple things; the 500 block is someplace you can do that.”

If the plan moves forward, Gotsick hopes the lighting will greet holiday shoppers at the start of snowfall, as long as it is safe to do so with the constraints of COVID-19.

Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is a reporter and the social media manager at the Evanston RoundTable. She covers small businesses, social justice and human interest stories. Contact her at sam@evanstonroundtable.com and...

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