When city council meets Monday, a key discussion item will be the demolition of seven units in the Fifth ward between Emerson Street and Jackson Avenue, with the city set to vote on a $200,000 contract for the project and possibly amend a city code.

However, this is not the first time the city council has discussed the Emerson-Jackson site. It’s a project that has been in the pipeline since 2019.

Houses at 1413-1425 Emerson St. are seen in an image from a June 1, 2022, appraisal report conducted by Second City Appraisal for the City of Evanston. Credit: City of Evanston appraisal report

Aina Gutierrez, the executive director at Rebuilding Exchange, a nonprofit that runs deconstruction projects as work training, said at a Jan. 18 meeting of the Minority, Women & Evanston Business Enterprise, or M/W/EBE Development Committee, that the project was cost-prohibitive, as it falls under the Prevailing Wage Act. That means, under the law, contractors on public works projects are required to be paid at market rates, which Gutierrez said is about $45 an hour. However, that figure far exceeds what the nonprofit can pay—the state minimum wage of $15.40 an hour, she said.

“We want to save the material and we want to use it as a job training opportunity. But it’s not feasible for us to pay prevailing wage, ” Gutierrez said. 

The virtual meeting, which ran nearly two hours, and had 17 people attending focused on the redevelopment of the Emerson-Jackson site and the committee’s future steps.

Fifth Ward Council Member Bobby Burns said that unlike demolition, deconstruction takes longer, particularly in a training program, further adding to costs. A vote was taken to send the issues back to the Jan. 23 meeting of the Administration and Public Works Committee, asking for more money and support from the city council as the city will decide on a contract with the local demolition company, rather than deconstruction.

The city late last year issued an RFP soliciting bids for either a deconstruction or demolition of the site. With the Emerson property slated for demolition, Gutierrez, who is against the demolition, said there are potential health risks and environmental concerns.

“The idea that this is all going to get smashed up and the dust is gonna go everywhere is not very exciting to me as a member of the community,” she said.

During the meeting, the committee voted unanimously for an amendment to add Disadvantaged Business Enterprise to the part of the city code which addresses classifications of businesses.

The demolition project, expected to cost $214,500, looks set to be awarded to Wreckon Specs LLC, a local demolition company, with the city looking to fund the project from West Evanston TIF. Committee member Michael McLean described the situation as “a lost opportunity,” calling for the city to offer incentives to help property owners hire local deconstruction contractors.

The committee’s 2023 work plan prioritizes city engagement with local businesses especially on major projects, particularly MWEBE firms. However, members said more work needs to be done.

“We need to start a foundational support system not just to support our existing small businesses but also to create small businesses and to foster them wanting to be in Evanston,” McLean said.

Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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