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.

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.”

Melissa Wynne.

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.”

Chava Wu.

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.

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.” 

Related stories

Related document

EDC Packet for 11/16/16 (Library lot info starts at p. 182)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


    1. Is this the best they have to offer?

      Wow, with the architectural glory we have in our community and nearby Chicago could this developer come up with something more significant than a large red-brick stack. And yes, why so tall? Go back to the drawing board. I don't think "The Main" fits the neighborhood either. Is this the best they have to offer. I hope not!

    2. It should be even taller

      This is a prime downtown location near multiple transit lines. It will generate substantial property tax revenue for the city and add to the daytime population needed to sustain local businesses. At the same time, it will keep commercial rents in check by adding inventory and encourage business expansion in the area. If anything, we should encourage the developer to build even taller, perhaps to the height of Sherman Plaza or the Chase building, or Rotary Center.

    3. I absolutely disagree

      I absolutely disagree. With a 9 story building directly across the street, and the 20+ story Park Evanston apartment building about 500' to the south, 14 stories does not seem inappropriate.

      We should be supportive of density (which is correlated with height) within our downtown, which is close to multiple transit lines. This is how we reduce pollution, add to our tax base, and continue to support and grow our vibrant downtown.

      As a voting and taxpaying resident of Evanston, I support this development. If the City was willing to come down on it's asking price, I'm sure we would see a proposal that has less density or better architecture.

      With only two respondents, it is clear that the asking price is high (please note that I'm not saying it is too high). Had the asking price been lower, I'm sure we would be seeing multiple proposals for this site. I'm OK with the $5 mil asking price, which I understand will drive the height, density, and architecture of this building.

      1. Really?

        How much are your property taxes going to go down when this building goes up?

        What are the guarantees that it will be fully rented at all times?

        1. I never claimed property tax would go down

          I never claimed property tax would go down, I just stated that it would help the tax base. A stable tax base is how we prevent taxes from GOING UP.

    4. Double Yikes!
      Right?? This is going to block out the sun and cause constant traffic jams. Unbelievable! This is Evanston, not downtown Manhattan!

      1. Unless you decide to buy air rights

        Unless you decide to buy air rights over the site, you don't have a claim to the sun light that this building will block at the expense of every taxpayer in the city. As a voting Evanston resident, I encourage our leaders to approve the highest and best use structure for this site to reduce the tax burden on working residents. That will likely mean including as much density as possible by increasing height to at least that of the Chase buidling. 

    5. Density is the way forward
      This is an office Evanston’s central business district – they’re not proposing this across from Bent Park!

      As a vibrant, transit-oriented community, we should welcome density downtown. A dense office structure will bring dozens of companies and hundreds of workers into downtown Evanston every day, eating at our restaurants, shopping at our shops, and maybe even choosing to move their families to Evanston. This is good for our city’s vibrancy, economy, and quality of life.

      Build away. The tired arguments (“too tall,” “too much traffic,” “what about my light?”) are better suited to the sprawling, car-centric, 20th century way of thinking than to the exciting urban revival that Evanston is lucky to be experiencing.

      1. Not a Good Look

        As for city planning and development, this would not be an appropriate site for this building.  Very inconsiderate of the Chicago Ave. neighbors,  Best plan would be to gift the historic Womens Club to the Harley-Davidson mansion. . Demolish the house and expand development to the corner to create a business environment with a better architectural look.  This building is mundane.  A lower structure with more opportunity and versatility would be feasible.  Seek a better alternative for the space that would enhance the location.

  1. Selling More City Assets

    Do the Alderman and city staff realize that at some point you run out of assets to sell? Why is it that the sale of city assets has become the strategy of choice? How about some fiscal discipline and political will? Or, maybe we should go all in and sell the fire stations, beaches, parks and meters. Let's hope the upcoming municipal elections will bring some some much needed change.

    1. City selling assets, what about NU

      Periodically we get stories about how much land NU owns that should be put on the tax roll and tears everytime NU buys a property. Why is there not more outrage about all the property the city has tied-up ? City hall must be a big drain [and not just because of the energy in consumes] but also land.

  2. Interesting records from past buildings

    It would be interesting to have seen the public comments back to day #1 of Evanston.

    I bet they had the same complaints when some wanted to have a second story for their house; the first store [let alone two story building] had to fight for months to get permission.

    It never changes.

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