Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to add additional context about the Fourth Ward meeting. Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma started the meeting discussing several key Evanston issues, including workplace equity at City Hall, the Margarita Inn, equitable zoning and council goals. His eight items to watch in 2023 were in addition to the agenda items discussed. The article’s first version made it seem as though the only key issues Nieuwsma thought needed addressing were those on the list in the final segment of the ward meeting. This error is on the writer completely and I regret it.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that the new year will bring a number of big ticket decisions before the Evanston City Council.

Representatives from the First to Ninth Ward (above) plus Mayor Daniel Biss make up the Evanston City Council.

But Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma took a minute at his last Fourth Ward meeting of the year on Dec. 6 to look into the future and outline what he sees as the top issues to watch in 2023. 

The segment of “on the horizon” came at the end of a two-hour meeting after discussions on:

  • racial discrimination against Black workers at city hall
  • equitable zoning
  • the budget
  • the Margarita Inn

Those issues were all ones he characterized as still key to Evanston in 2023.

On racial discrimination and harassment at City Hall, Nieuwsma explained the meetings and discussions that have already taken place and the 60-day road map that was issued by City Manager Luke Stowe: “This is something that the city council and I take very seriously,” Nieuwsma said. “The city of Evanston needs to be a good place and a warm and welcoming place for everybody to work.”

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Abut the Margarita Inn, he added: “I am confident that in a year, or maybe two years, we are going to look back and this is going to be part of the community.” 

Fourth Ward City Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma outlines the challenges for the City Council in 2023 at his ward meeting Dec. 6. Credit: Evan Girard

As for the final eight issues, the RoundTable decided this would make a great list to think about on New Year’s Eve (with a couple of links to RoundTable’s coverage for context). 

And perhaps a list to add to? Please feel free in the comment section to talk about any other critical issues you think the city council should or will face.  

Here are the issues Nieuwsma raised, in (as he said) “no particular order.” 

Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, City Hall Credit: Susy Schultz

1) Civic Center decisions. Does the city leave the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., and relocate to downtown Evanston? The question that has been floating around for some time will likely have to be called very soon, Nieuwsma said. “We are going to have some hard decisions to make about the Civic Center. Our choices are going to be to spend a whole bunch of money to fix that place up or to move out.” While Nieuwsma said he had not made up his mind about the topic, he also said, “the Civic Center is much larger than what we need and costs a whole lot of money.” He added: “I expect within six months it is going to be our number one topic.” 

The entrance to Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, the Fifth Ward’s local recreation center at 1655 Foster Street. Credit: RoundTable file photo

2) Fleetwood Jourdain decisions. The plans for the Fifth Ward School are still uncertain. There will be a new school as the financing has been set up already. But what else? A few of the architectural drawings proposed include replacing the Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St. “I am committed to the idea of the Fifth Ward School,” Nieuwsma said. “I think the council is committed to the idea of a Fifth Ward School … but do we need three buildings on one city block doing similar things? I am going to say as taxpayers of Evanston, the city council works for us, the school district works for us and I hope we can find a way for the city and District 65 to deeply collaborate with one new school and one community center. Let’s make sure those two bodies can get together and save us money and maintain some green space.” 

The front page of Friday’s issue of The Evanstonian, which covers public safety at both ETHS and Evanston. Credit: The Evanstonian

3) Public safety improvements. Nieuwsma said, “We need to make sure we are all allowed to feel safe walking downtown at night to see a movie. We have work to do.” The police department, which has been short staffed, is hiring. The interim police chief was replaced by Schenita Stewart in October, after more than a yearlong search. Certain crimes are up in Evanston while others are down, but as a whole crime is well below state and national averages. But people are worried about guns and youth and recently The Evanstonian, ETHS’ student newspaper, reported that students are very worried as well. Just hours before Mayor Daniel Biss was sworn into office in May, 2021, he appointed 17 members, including himself, to a new committee, Reimagining Public Safety Committee, which has discussed setting up an alternative number for less dangerous 911 calls. But Nieuwsma said, “I don’t know what is going to come out of the end of this process.” 

A rendering of the proposed exterior of the new Ryan Field stadium project. Credit: Northwestern University

4) Northwestern University’s proposed new stadium and events. Northwestern’s Dave Davis, executive director of Neighborhood and Community Relations, said officials would be coming in February to the Fourth Ward’s monthly meeting to discuss the renovation of Ryan Stadium. A lot of Northwestern officials have been making the rounds at various ward meetings and other community discussions. Davis will likely be asked about the fair share conversion in Evanston, which is the idea of Northwestern paying its fair share into the community in lieu of the taxes it is exempt from paying. Nieuwsma said we should have a  “holistic discussion and look for opportunities in reparations and taxes” for Northwestern to possibly pay. The proposed renovation has received mixed reviews from the community. 

5) Main Street construction. Construction is going to continue to be an issue for people in the Fourth Ward, particularly because of two projects: the construction of the new Northlight Theatre as well as the five-story mixed use building with 120 dwelling units on what was the site of the Vogue Fabrics store. 

6) City finances: strategic funding decisions. Nieuwsma, who sits on the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, said of the 2023 budget, “We were lucky this year to have a surplus and get away with doing some things without raising taxes.” There were questions during this year’s budget talks about fully funding the city’s public pension obligations. 

A rendering shows the proposed UL sign during the day and illuminated at night. Credit: City of Evanston packet

7) Downtown events. There must be more, Nieuwsma said. The downtown needs more people. The good news is that downtown foot traffic will increase because UL has signed a lease and is moving several of its divisions to 1603 Orrington Ave. But with foot traffic down, the downtown businesses have been slower than other business districts in Evanston to recover from pandemic financial setbacks. WGN was supposed to host a block party downtown this summer, but it was canceled in light of the Highland Park shootings. But the Chamber of Commerce is hopeful WGN will be back this summer.

8) Solar panels on city buildings. This might not be everyone’s top priority, Nieuwsma said, but “solar panels in city buildings is one my pet projects.” He is hopeful that will be something to watch in 2023 as well. 

Susy Schultz

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...

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  1. Regarding the Civic Center, the city should sell the present building (which would probably become housing) and rent office space in downtown Evanston, boosting downtown’s economy.

  2. The list of upcoming challenges for 2023 that this article focuses on does not include topics covered earlier in the December 6 Fourth Ward meeting. I addressed the concerning issues raised by the Black employees earlier in the evening, even before the Margarita update, as well as in my 12/23 Ward 4 newsletter.

    As I said in the newsletter, I take the concerns seriously and am committed to making the City of Evanston a great place to work. Not only is this important for the employees themselves; it’s important for Evanston as a community that we live up to our own expectations of equity and inclusivity.

    12/6 Ward meeting presentation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fz1cCL7mTRQ7xIlF7Yw89bDx9mX_15oj/view?usp=sharing

    12/23 Newsletter:
    https://content.govdelivery.com/bulletins/gd/ILEVANSTON-33f1eb2?wgt_ref=ILEVANSTON_WIDGET_10

    Happy new year to all!

    Jonathan Nieuwsma
    Ward 4 Councilmember

    1. My apologies Jonathan, That is on me, not on you. I should have made that clear. Susy Schultz, editor

    2. Alderman Nieuwsma, I have *repeatedly* contacted your office about an important 4th Ward issue, yet I’ve received no response from you. Is there a certain “protocol” involved in contacting you, or…???

      Respectfully,
      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward Resident

  3. It’s interesting how one can discuss these items and at the same time ignore the city’s staff discrimination against Black employees and the sexual assault/harassment scandal. Evanston deserves authentic leadership and elected officials that are unafraid to address the most difficult challenges in our community. There are serious questions about projects that only enrich developers and not the Evanston Community. The Civic Center is one of the City’s prized public assets, but this current batch of politicians are bent on giving it away as they have other assets to the detriment of Evanston.

    Overall the list is disappointing and for many of us continues the trend that Blacks Lives do not Matter to the Evanston City Council.

    1. Right on target, Kevin. Nieuwsma’s priorities provide great insight, exposing politics in lieu of and contrary to campaign promises.

    2. Kevin, Please check the Council members response. This was a mistake by me as I did not report the full context of the suggestions. Council member Nieuwsma made it a key point to talk about racial discrimination of Black employees at City Hall as well as equity in zoning as key issues earlier in the meeting. I failed in the writing of the story. He did not fail to recognize racial discrimination as a key issues in Evanston. Susy Schultz, editor