The Arrington Lagoon building and its patio are just off the lakefront at the north end of Dawes Park. (Photo by Bob Seidenberg.)

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Members of the City’s Economic Development Committee appear ready to uncork beer and wine sales at one spot on Evanston’s lakefront.

At their March 9 meeting, members backed a proposal to invite interest from restaurant operators in operating a café program at the Arrington Lagoon building and patio that sits just off the lakefront.

Under the proposal, the building’s small kitchen could either be used as a heating kitchen for food prepared off-site or retrofitted for small-scale cooking/warming, officials said.

Beverage programming, they said, could include beer, wine, soft drinks, hot chocolate and slushie drinks.

If beer and wine were sold, the drinks would have to be consumed in the lagoon building or the patio areas, since alcohol consumption is prohibited at Evanston’s parks and beaches.

Officials had been moving forward on the issue in 2020 but then shelved the proposal with the advent of COVID-19.

The proposal would be a departure from current city practice and policy. A 2008 Lakefront Master Plan proposed no “private” commercial uses for the area, allowing “minor public” commercial uses, such as the concession stands (no alcoholic beverages) that have operated in the area in the past.

Committee members voted unanimously in support of the action, including Council members Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, whose wards include portions of the lakefront.

“I just want to say that this is really a possibility that can really enhance the lakefront experience as well as the Evanston experience,” Kelly said about the proposal.

Kelly said she was glad the committee was focusing on just one location at this time rather than moving forward with a more expansive plan.

“If we continue … this will only proceed with very close communication-participation with residents – everybody that is interested,” she said.

In backing the proposal, Wynne said, “I appreciate that people want to have a light meal on the lakefront, which means I’m really taking giant steps forward,” referring to her reluctance on the issue in the past.

“What I could support is something that is described here,” she said about the proposal, “that we make sure that someone or somebody [who] comes in and says, ‘We’re going to have fancy restaurant here, full service,‘ that’s not what we’re talking about.”

City officials assured committee members that the tight confines of the lagoon
building, approximately 1,200 square feet, would make that unlikely.

With the action, staff will issue letters of intent to vendors interested in providing an elevated food program at the Arrington Lagoon building.

The city is encouraging interested parties to submit “creative proposals offering seasonal menus and drinks that could run through the beach season or year-round – such as serving hot beverages to ice skaters – said Katheryn Boden, the city’s Economic Development Specialist, and Paul Zalmezak, Evanston’s Economic Development Manager, in a memo and in discussion.

“Proposals will be evaluated on the food program’s food offering variety, pricing, and food establishment partnership diversity,” Boden wrote. “The City will give priority to proposals from locally-owned food establishments.”

Officials hope to bring the issue in front of the full City Council in April, with the aim to have a business operating in time for the beach season.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Any proposal for the lease of public properties or facilities for private food or hospitality services should include a a lottery option to ensure that Evanston residents of all income levels continue to have access to those facilities because that access is priceless. Whether at Arlington Lagoon or Harley Clarke or any other publicly held location, residents should be able to enter a lottery to hold a subsidized event there so that the jewels of the city’s natural and historical setting continue to be owned and enjoyed by all of its citizens.

  2. Fantastic idea – the hot dog vendor on the west side of the building is an enjoyable way to grab a quick lunch and enjoy the lake and lagoon area