South Evanston residents can look forward to two new developments on Howard Street soon: An economic revitalization partnership with Rogers Park and a cannabis dispensary and bakery scheduled to open in August in the Evanston Gateway building at 100 Chicago Ave.
Evanston, Chicago and the Rogers Park Business Alliance announced last month that they had jointly won a $100,000 state grant for a business plan dubbed “One Howard Street.” The goal is to attract new storefronts, events and more to both sides of Howard from Sheridan Road on the east all the way to Western Avenue on the west.
About 50 Evanston residents got a preview of the project during an Eighth Ward meeting Thursday night hosted by Council Member Devon Reid at Peckish Pig, a restaurant and brewery on Howard.
“For the average resident and visitor, nobody really cares which side of the street you’re on,” said Cindy Plante, the economic development manager for Rogers Park Business Alliance. “We want to blur that line and elevate it for everybody.”
Years in the making
Plante spoke about the One Howard Street project alongside Evanston Economic Development Specialist Katie Boden and Ally Brisbin, a director with MUSE Community + Design, an urban planning firm helping out with community engagement on the business plan. The three emphasized that these kinds of long-term economic development projects can take years to implement through surveying residents, coordinating with elected officials and ultimately designing a vision for what people want to see in the area.
An initial schedule and rough plan is due back to the state in September, Plante said, and Brisbin added that MUSE will attend street fests and other summer events to talk to residents about their desires for businesses and other attractions on Howard Street.
One big benefit for the City of Evanston that could help provide funding for the neighborhood is a plan in the works to make Howard Street its own Special Service Area (SSA), which would create a taxing district to raise funds for things like business partnerships, summer events and more. Right now, the city’s SSAs include downtown Evanston, the Main-Dempster Mile and Central Street.
However some residents in the audience on Thursday evening expressed skepticism that all three groups could come together to form a concrete and realistic plan by September for such a large swath of Howard Street.
Responding to those concerns, Reid said that Evanston Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak had come to him previously with an idea for a joint SSA shared by Evanston and Rogers Park. Reid ultimately decided against that idea because of how much larger Chicago’s piece of the pie would have been.
“While I appreciated Paul’s idea, and I think it still has a whole lot of value to create some cohesiveness, I said, ‘Well, let’s move forward with an SSA just on the Evanston side of Howard,'” Reid said. “That way, we can ensure that we have control to make the investments we need to make.”
Plante, Boden and Brisbin are asking residents to complete the One Howard Street community survey to share their experiences and voice preferences and concerns about the project.
Later in Thursday’s ward meeting, attendees heard from Ameya Pawar, one of the owners of West Town Bakery and OKAY Cannabis. Pawar and his ownership team are in the process of opening a dual bakery and marijuana dispensary on Howard Street.
The company has already filed permit applications with the City of Evanston to run the restaurant and dispensary there, according to Pawar, and he said he is aiming for a late summer grand opening.
The bakery will serve up Dark Matter coffee on tap, cakes and pastries, though the food will not have any cannabis infused into it, Pawar clarified. The restaurant and dispensary will have separate entrances, as well.
He described the business as “family friendly” and designed to be a regular coffee shop where parents can hang out with their kids while also having easy access to a dispensary if they want to buy cannabis products.
OKAY Cannabis qualifies as a social equity dispensary license holder in Illinois because 93% of the owners are Black or brown, according to Pawar
“The sales tax on cannabis feeds into the reparations fund,” Pawar said. “And so, we thought, being on that side [the Evanston side of Howard] would be really great, so we sought this location out.”
In what “bizarro” universe is a street revitalization program dependent on a
business that is “designed to be a regular coffee shop where parents can hang out with their kids while also having easy access to a dispensary if they want to buy cannabis products.” Parents shouldn’t hang out with kids at a coffee shop and if they do why are they buying reefer?
There is a serious lack of civic and economic development leadership on Howard Street.