Despite complaints from neighboring property owners, Evanston aldermen voted 7-0 Monday to immediately seek proposals for redevelopment of the surface parking lot adjacent to the public library downtown.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that “four legitimate development concerns” have expressed interest in the property at 1714-20 Chicago Ave. in the last 30 days.

He said there’ve been occasional inquiries about the parking lot for several years but that the level of interest has grown dramatically recently with the decline in office vacancy rates in the city.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said refusing to consider proposals for redeveloping the site wouldn’t make any sense, because the city doesn’t yet know what the proposals may turn out to be.

Chava Wu.

Chava Wu, president of the Woman’s Club of Evanston, which has its clubhouse just south of the parking lot, said she feared new construction on the lot would damage the clubs’ 104-year-old building and said club members didn’t want to lose the easy access to parking.

Louise Knight

Louise Knight, president of the Frances Willard Historical Association, which owns the properties just north of the parking lot, said she understood the desire to develop the property, but said she opposed suspending council rules to give immediate approval to the ordinance authorizing the talks.

She also said she shared concerns raised by the Woman’s Club about the impact of development.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the vote to entertain proposals for development “is just getting the conversation started” and insisted that any proposals would be thoroughly aired publicly.

She added that if there is development, adjacent properties will be protected through a construction management plan.

And she said that any new development would need to replace the parking provided by the lot “one-to-one.”

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl added that “anybody who comes with a proposal that doesn’t include parking won’t be looked at favorably.”

Actual sale of the parking lot would require a separate vote by the City Council and new construction plans for the roughly 30,000 square-foot property would have to go through the city’s planned development approval process.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Surface Parking is not a good use of valuable downtown land
    Surface parking is not an efficient use of valuable downtown land and detracts rather than contributes to a vibrant, dense, walkable neighborhood. Glad the Council understands this.

    1. The Charm of Evanston is Disappearing

      As a two-time resident of Evanston over 20 years, I'm sorry to see the central city area gobbled up by highrise buildings. This particular block of Evanston is graced with several historic buildings. Breaking up that view with another tall building will change the feel of the environment forever. How much have office vacancy rates declined? Enough to wipe out one of the last relatively open spaces downtown? Are there other alternatives for new building or rehabbing existing buildings? I hope these questions are asked and answered before Evanston sacrifices this lot.

      1. We’re not talking about

        We're not talking about preserving the character of a currently low rise, low density block. This is a city block wich already has one high rise, a large dorm and a large, modern library building. A surface parking lot is not "open space" in any normal or useful sense, but is indeed a waste of valuable downtown land. It has been underutilised for a long time, but it makes no more sense to preserve it than it did to preserve the suface parking that used to be on the opposite side of Chicago where there is now an aprtment/parking structure.

        What worries me more is the likelihood that NU will purchase any office building built on the site. They have a history of acquiring office buildings near the campus and this one would be half a block South of campus proper and adjacent to a dorm, so a prime candidate for purchase and subsequent removal from the tax rolls. Maybe the hope that an office building there would be attractive to NU as a quick sale is the impetus behind the push to develop the site.

        1. No reason to duplicate past mistakes

          The fact that the City of Evanston stupidly and short-sightedly allowed the building of large buildings that are architecturally inappropriate to the historic nature of this block in the past does not mean that we should allow them to make the same stupid, short-sighted decisions today. "Efficient" use of the space is not the goal for a small city that should be focused on maintaining its character. It appears that we need 7 new aldermen and 1 new mayor.

          1. The resources of the planet

            The resources of the planet are limited so of course efficiency is important, especially in a small, fully built up city. We don't need ugly inappropriate development but we do need well planned, efficient use of our limited downtown area. Giving prime space to surface parking — not exactly a period suitable neighbor to an 1865 historic structure — if somebody has a better, more appropriate use for the site would be bad deal for all of us.

            As nobody has even begun to develop plans, it is a bit early to speculate on whether they would be architecturally inappropriate to a block most of which is not historic or of great architectural beauty (though many people seem to like the 22-year-old large, brick-clad, prairie style library). The time to save the historic nature of the whole block would have been 50 plus years ago when they demolished the Carnegie library building.

          2. Friends of the Parking Lot?

            Agree completely with Robert Surunkel.  There should be a place for everything in a vibrant city. We are talking about the heart of downtown, which should be the highest density and most productively used in the city (yes, this is a city).  Surface parking is the highest and best use only for land no one wants for anything else.  It's ugly storage for cars that breaks up the block and detracts from everything around it.  I find it hard to believe we're debating the preservation of surface parking over nearly any other use.  Build something tall, modern and vibrant!  

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