One of the more radical suggestions to emerge from Evanston’s budget workshops is a concept advocated by local architect Mike Vasilko for a new arts district development on the lakefront.

One of the more radical suggestions to emerge from Evanston’s budget workshops is a concept advocated by local architect Mike Vasilko for a new arts district development on the lakefront.

A sketch by Mike Vasilko of what the lakefront arts district might look like.

Vasilko, who lives at 2728 Reese Ave. in the 6th Ward, said he envisions the district could be built on landfill south of the existing Northwestern University landfill campus.

As Vasilko sees it, the site would run roughly from Davis Street on the north to a bit south of Dempster Street.

Theaters, concert halls and meeting rooms, he says, would sit atop underground parking along a peninsula about 300 feet wide by 2,000 feet long and would face a marina that in turn would be enclosed by a new beach built along a breakwater jutting into the lake.

Vasilko suggests that city ownership of the land would provide a financial base that could attract private developers to build and operate the site on a long-term lease from the city.

He foresees events at the site generating new city tax revenue and additional business for the city’s restaurant and hotel industries.

City Planning Director Dennis Marino, discussing the concept with Vasilko at a budget workshop table Monday night, noted that a marina has been something of a “third-rail” of Evanston politics, attracting intense opposition whenever it’s been proposed.

The only alderman known to favor a marina, Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, retired from the City Council earlier this year. He’s currently in a five-way race for the state house seat being vacated by Julie Hamos.

And, Marino noted, lakefront residents have often opposed anything but completely passive uses along the shore.

Marino suggested the arts district concept might work better downtown, where over several years people have suggested a variety of cultural projects, including turning the former Varsity Theater building into a performing arts center.

But those ideas have so far failed to come to fruition because of a lack of financial resources to pull them off.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Lake front plans
    I hate to put a somber blanket on all of this, but has anyone explained to the proponents the many procedural steps that have to be taken to go out into the lake? It will take decades.

  2. ‘Arts’ is starting to rankle
    And after rankle comes fester. What we need is focus on viability, safety, affordable housing, basic income . . . ‘arts’ comes a few notches higher up on Maslow. We’re not there.

  3. Marina, yes.
    Yes!. This is the kind of vision this town needs. The “lakefront residents” don’t own the lake. These same residents opposed the marina when it was proposed to be located across from the Calvary Cemetery. I guess they thought it might disturb the neighbors.

  4. Perfect!
    What dumbfounds me is that Evanston seems to be trying to reinvent herself by coming out with a new campaign to promote the downtown area (I’m assuming to drum up business) with a slogan of: Where Chicago and the North Shore Meet. But yet lets the lakefront sit like the Mona Lisa hanging on a bedroom wall for no one to really appreciate. To boot, the downtown area is so close to the lakefront (unlike, say, Wilmette) that it seems like a no-brainer to develop the lakefront and incorporate it into the aura that is “Downtown Evanston”. To me it seems like an Arts District on the lakefront is EXACTLY what Evanston needs!

  5. To me, it sounds like one of
    To me, it sounds like one of those projects with costs that will be socialized, paid for by the city (i.e. ultimately, residents), and the benefits will be private, going to boat owners, restaurants and hotel(s). *Hotels*? The plan is to block the view of the lake from residents and eliminate most of the park (which, even living 10 blocks away from the lake, I enjoy quite a bit), I guess. Hurray, I can’t wait.

    PS: And don’t forget that in terms of performance venues, a new one would compete with other venues in Evanston (including Northwestern), and the surrounding cities, including Chicago. What caliber of performances would be targeted?

  6. little plans
    “Make no little plans. They have no magic to strike man’s blood and probably will themselves not be realized.”

    We live in a age of continual complaining,whining, and self-serving intentions, while lacking a vision for future greatness. There is no longer any thought of striving for the greatness of the ‘whole’, but only what is in the interest of the ‘one’.

    I am glad our forefathers had far more insight into what truly inspires great societies to become what they dream.

    1. I don’t understand what your
      I don’t understand what your opinion on the proposal might be from your comment. Does your “vision for future greatness” include a Holiday Inn, McDonald’s and a parking lot in the lake front or a public, green, space?

      I will add that I don’t understand the performance center proposal by the lake front. The biggest asset of being by a lake front would be the view. So… let’s build something that cannot have windows?

  7. Lakefront Planning and Commercialization
    For those who are brand new to Evanston, or somehow missed the entire process, Evanston has already adopted a long-term master plan for the lakefront. Taking nearly 18 months to complete, and including input from ALL parts of Evanston, in January 2008 the City Council unanimously approved the Lakefront Master Plan. Public meetings were held all over Evanston (including the Levy Center, Fleetwood-Jourdain, the Presbyterian Home, etc) and included a diverse population from all parts of Evanston and beyond.

    The overwhelming message, which was adopted in the plan, is that the citizens of Evanston wish to encourage and improve access to the lakefront, and encourage “passive” uses (such as biking, walking, beach, picnics, dog beach, sailing, limited festivals, etc) that allow ALL to enjoy the natural beauty of the lakefront while protecting this valuable resource.

    Addressed in the plan are increased pedestrian safety and access to the lakefront, encouraging uses that do not negatively affect the delicate ecosystem, and improvement/replacement of existing facilities with those that conform with the goals and objectives of the long-range plan.

    What was explicitly excluded from the plan was any commercialization or development that did not fit into the stated objectives of the plan.

    The Lakefront Master Plan is a vision for a lakefront that can be accessed and used by all citizens, while protecting the environment.

    The adopted plan is well reasoned, and reflects the collective goals of the citizens of Evanston, City Staff and elected officials. For those interested in the goals of the plan, you can find the entire plan on the City of Evanston website (

    1. Proposed marina again

      I couldnt agree more with opposirtion to thiis mariina project which keep resurfacing.  According to Daniel Burnham, the lakefront was for the enjoyment of everyone in Evanton and not the elite looking for a marina to be built ion our lakefront.  Moreover, it will create more pollutiion and more traffic.

      Let us not invoke difficult financial times for the the City of Evanston  (so mismaged).  Let s keep our lakefront for the envoyment of everone .

      Let us sink this project into the lake!

  8. Just a dream or a dream plan?
    I like this plan and the spirit of the idea. This is the kind of sensible vision this city needs.

    The city, with the help of a federal grant, did a feasibility study for a marina across from the cemetery on Sheridan Rd. a few years back, which concluded that a marina there would work. But some residents on the lake and many Rogers Park residents organized and shot down the plan.

    In other words, a few dictated the terms for the many just as a small army of homeowners did when it led the way to destroy a plan to build more homes and townhomes on a block of land at Sherman and Lincoln streets. Now the land is an eyesore and sits vacant as the developer trys to sell it. Who would want to buy that hot potato? The homeowners now have to live next to the dilipidated vacant land and wonder what eventually will go there.

    If Evanstonians want a marina and an arts district on the lake, they will have to organize to counter the NIMBYS. Otherwise, anyone with vision is just dreaming.

  9. Another Distraction
    It is truly sad that Evanston has to entertain this idea again. There are financial, economic, legal, and environmental factors that assure the failure of a marina in our city. It is obvious that very little thought was given to the latest proposal.

  10. Marina… Economic Impact
    I know the Marina idea was shot down.

    But has anyone considered the fiscal impact a Marina can have to the city of Evanston?

    It is clear that the demand for local slips outweighs the supply of slips from Chicago to Winthrop Harbor and beyond.

    I do not understand the harbinger of more arts in Evanston, particularly on the lakefront.

    A marina could help the city positively by generating… a new concept… a profit for the city. And for you greenies- a sail only harbor.

    I just do not get it. What an opportunity. I think it needs to be reviewed again.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *