Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, pronounced herself flabbergasted Wednesday night when developers of a proposed office building in her ward suggested the city not give them the second of two $20,000 grants to help market the project.

Above: Alderman Wynne. Below: Developer O’Donnell.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, pronounced herself flabbergasted Wednesday night when developers of a proposed office building in her ward suggested the city not give them the second of two $20,000 grants to help market the project.

Developer John O’Donnell of OMS Evanston LLC said that efforts to market the development on the southeast corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue to prospective office tenants were moving more slowly than expected.

He said that as a result the development team had spent less money than expected and didn’t yet need the additional city assistance.

But Wynne, noting that with the upcoming holidays it could be difficult to get approval of the second grant through the City Council before the end of the year if action wasn’t taken now, urged other members of the Economic Development Committee to recommend approval of the grant.

O’Donnell said that his team has been actively marketing the project and has completed detailed space plans for three tenants, issued proposals to two of them and hopes to receive a response from at least one tenant shortly.

“That’s going to occur, or it won’t, within the next 60 days,” he said.

He said that because of uncertainty in the overall economy, potential tenants have been reluctant “to take on a long-term proposition” and the project “hasn’t been getting traction so far.”

He noted that the development needs to get a commitment from at least one lead tenant who would likely need 10,000 square feet or more and would be expected to sign a lease for at least 10 years to be able to get construction financing to build the project.

And he added that smaller tenants have many options already in Evanston that wouldn’t require such a long-term committment.

A rendering of the proposed office building, center, superimposed on a photo of the Chicago Avenue streetscape looking north from Washington Street.

O’Donnell suggested that if the project hits roadblocks over the next couple of months he’d return to discuss alternatives for the site with the city, perhaps involving a smaller office building.

“We’re going to come up with a plan that works, and we’ll be back, asking for money then,” O’Donnell said.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the developers “know exactly what they’re doing and what the market is.”

She said it gave her comfort that “they’re not going out and making crazy deals. It’s very possible to fail if you do this the wrong way.”

Plan Commissioner Seth Freeman said he didn’t see any point in adding money to the project if it doesn’t demand it now.

“They’re being very forthcoming. I think that’s very rewarding,” Freeman said, asking “Is the money going to disappear?”

Wynne conceded that the money wouldn’t disappear, but still pressed for a vote to approve the grant. And, in the end, her motion carried, with only Freeman voting no.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. What is She Thinking?

    Melissa Wynne continues to disappoint showing a lack of common sense that is astounding and, even more astounding taking along the majority of alderpeople who openly acknowledge her plan of action is flawed.  Having worked in commerical real estate for over 20 years I know that on the rare occassion a developer turns down money there are some serious issues with a project and, to this developer's credit they are being honest about the challenges in this market.  Why press to have another building in Evanston with high vacancy, especially when there are so many other ways the money could be productively spent.  I live in hope we can get some truly thoughtful leadership in Evanston soon.

  2. Bill, did you ask any follow up questions?

    I'm genuinely curious as to why she was so motivated to do this?  It's beating a dead horse to say that that money should be used for something useful – and, to be fair, maybe it was… but I just can't see it.

    Can someone please follow up with her and ask her why she was so adament about this?  I would, but when I call her office I get a message telling me her voice mail is full.

    We need some investigative reporting on this one!

  3. Honest Developer, incompetent public officials

    In attending the meeting, I was impressed that the Developers told the committee they did not want to take the money at this time.  But there is alittle more to this than meets the eye.  The Developers signed an agreement with the city? Or do we just give people money for no reason? 

    Were the developers saying they may not be able to perform the orginal agreement and it would need to  be modified?  Our crack Economic development staff should have been on top of this?  Maybe not.   

    Alderperson Wynne shows she does not understand contracts or how to get performance out of those you sign contracts.  ( odd for a lawyer?)  But remember all the committee members ( alderpersons) approved this not just her.

    I would suspect just because she and her committee friends approved the money, the Developer many not ask for payment until, they can modify the agreement. It was nice to see that the Developers were following correct  and ethical business practices, As one committee member said we are partners, if I were the Developer I would not want to work with such incompetent partners!

    We have a very long track record here of giving people money and getting no real performance, that is they not do what the agreed to when the got the money.  This has been the case with many of the affordable housing items, along with numerous other items. Alderperson have been in the habit of just giving these people more of the tax payers money ( wasting)  In one sense what are the issues behind non performance of contracts?  Law suits? Does the city ever go after anyone who does not perform?

    On Saturday Wally and Friends will be asking for a 8% property tax increase, how much of this is due to non performance and incompentance?



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