Plans for a 14-story office building to be built on the city-owned parking lot at 1714-20 Chicago Ave. were unveiled at the Evanston Economic Development Committee meeting Wednesday night.
Developer Conor Commercial submitted what city staff described as the only responsive proposal for the property, meeting the city’s asking price for the property of $5 million.
Eleven firms initially expressed interest in the site but only three submitted responses. One other developer proposed paying only half as much as the city asked. A third said it had concluded a project on the site was not financially feasible.
EDC members agreed to move forward with the Conor proposal — beginning with a presentation about it at a 1st Ward meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The developers have already made several revisions to their design from the original one submitted to the city — providing a 20 foot front yard setback, eliminating parking garage access from Chicago Avenue and using red brick instead of a white surface material for most of the non-glass elements of the facade.
The added setback requested by the city led the developers to increase the proposed height of the buiding from 12 to 14 stories.
The design calls for ground-level retail space and three levels of parking for 124 cars.
Molly McShane, chief investment officer for Conor, said the firm and its construction affiliate, McShane Construction, has won awards for its hiring of minorities and women and would “meet and exceed” the city’s expectations for minority participation in the project.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, told the developers she was “very happy that you’re willing and eager to reach out to the community.”
“I’m a little concerned about how tall it is,” Fiske added, “but I understand there are financial considerations for that.”
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the community meeting process has worked before — for example with The Main, a new mixed-use development that opened last month in her ward.
She added that making the new development fit in contextually with the Woman’s Club of Evanston and the Frances Willard historic sites on either side of the parking lot would be “vitally important.”
Woman’s Club President Chava Wu said she was worried about the economic impact on the club during the construction process for the new building — saying she feared that because of construction noise the club wouldn’t be able to host daytime events that it relies on to generate revenue.
She also said she was worried about what would happen if the project failed and left a big hole in the ground where the parking lot is now.
Vickie Burke, president of the Frances Willard Association said both the Willard and Woman’s Club properties are landmarks, and asked whether the City Council would put a 14-story office building next to other city landmarks — like the Grosse Point Lighthouse or the Dawes Mansion.
But Mary Beth Berns, chair of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, said people throughout the city — not just the immediate neighbors — should be heard on the project.
“This is a city-owned property, we all technically own a piece of it,” Berns said. “And though I live pretty far from the site, it’s important to me that we draw in new businesses, because that will mean I’ll pay less in property taxes.”
“It’s creitical ot open up the process to the entire city for comment,” she added. “I think you’ll get really different opinions from those not in the immediate neighborhood.”
EDC Packet for 11/16/16 (Library lot info starts at p. 182)