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A lakefront arts district for Evanston?

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.

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