The empty Burger King building at the corner of Clark Street and Orrington Avenue, which has been closed since December 2020, will be demolished “in a matter of days” according to Annie Coakley, Executive Director of Downtown Evanston.
Coakley also assured residents that the reopening of the Church Street Plaza movie theater by AMC is “100% happening.” The late Century 12/Cinemark theater was suddenly closed for good in February 2021, and the plans to reopen it as the AMC Evanston 12 were announced by new owner and developer GW Properties a year later in February 2022.
Coakley said Mayor Daniel Biss has been communicating with the developer and AMC to iron out an opening date that can be shared with the public.
Coakley shared the news to an audience of about 50 people on Thursday, Sept. 15, at the virtual First Ward meeting. Council member Clare Kelly invited Coakley to provide updates on the downtown area, and provided announcements and information on other topics as well.
Burger King out, movie theater is in when…?
In the departing Burger King’s place, a 10-story, 100,000 sq. ft office building will be developed with “wet lab” spaces for scientific research and development. The project is led by developer Trammel Crow, and was approved by City Council on March 14, 2022.
Kelly added that while the demolition is imminent, an exact date is not available since the developer is waiting for a demolition permit.
“The only permit they have right now was for the construction fence, but the plans for the demolition of the new building have not yet been issued,” Kelly said. “So the fence will go up, but we don’t have a date yet for the actual demolition.”
As for the movie theater, that date also seems to be elusive. But Coakley is sure it will happen soon. “I’ve now got the mayor speaking with them because, you know, he’s obviously got a lot more clout than I do,” Coakley said. “So he’s speaking with them just to finalize or find out if they can share a date… it’s just a matter of construction materials that they’re waiting on.”
Special meeting on public safety, updates on Fountain Square
Later in the meeting, Kelly announced that she will be holding a special ward meeting “the week after next” centered on public safety in the First Ward.
She said the meeting will discuss building an alternative emergency response system modeled after existing programs in other cities, such as Denver’s STAR Program and Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS Program.
“I’m working right now with a team of people in the community, both in the mental health area as well as physicians, to try to move forward with this program, which would be a very comprehensive program to address addiction, homelessness and other needs,” Kelly said. “And it would be a regular presence in our downtown to really address these problems in a more permanent and serious way, as opposed to just quick Band-Aid approaches.”
Kelly said the date for this meeting will be announced next week, along with updates on an issue a few attendees asked about: Fountain Square and the city’s legal action against Copenhaver Construction over allegations of poor workmanship when working on the project in 2017-2018.
“We are still in the lawsuit, it’s not resolved,” Kelly said. “But I will send out a First Ward update on the fountain and the lawsuit, thank you all for asking.”
The city issued a demand letter to Copenhaver for $5 million to cover “the near replacement of [Fountain Square]” on March 15, 2022. Kelly said she will prepare an update to share at the same time as the special ward meeting announcement.
City Council to discuss filling vacancies Monday
Toward the end of the meeting, resident Betty Hayford asked Kelly about how the city’s current understaffing will fit into the upcoming 2023 budget season.
“There’s been a lot of discussion for months about understaffing, and the current city staff and the need to hire people,” Hayford said. “Is the city moving forward with hiring new people? And is that going to be part of the proposed budget?”
In response, Kelly shared that City Council plans to hold a special meeting Monday, Sept. 19 to discuss and take action on the high number of vacancies.
“We’re going to be voting on measures to help both retain and encourage greater recruitment on Monday night,” Kelly said. “And I think that’ll all be in open session.”
She added that the projection of a budget surplus for 2022 is “in large part because we are so short staffed.” Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai reported strong and stable revenues at the Aug. 8 City Council meeting, and gave a rough estimate of a $5 million operating surplus by the end of the year.