Evanston aldermen Monday night voted to let Northwestern University build a visitor center that visitors should be able to easily find.

They rejected arguments by the Preservation Commission that the building should be set much farther back from Sheridan Road to avoid what the preservationists saw as a visual clash with the Daniel Burnham-designed Fisk Hall 102 feet to the west.

Above: Jack Weiss. Top: A photo montage from the university’s architects showing the planned visitor center, at right behind the trees, added to a view looking north on Sheridan Road last winter. Fisk Hall is on the left.

Preservation Commission member Jack Weiss said the visitor center should be moved north to the site of an existing university parking deck, and claimed that the project doesn’t meet the compatibility standards required by the preservation ordinance. 

But Ron Nayler, the university’s associate vice president for facility management, said the school would have to build a much taller parking garage as part of the visitor center if it were to replace the existing parking deck and still meet city parking requirements.

Ron Nayler.

He said the proposal meets all city zoning standards, and that it involves no filling of the lakefront.

Nayler also argued that the architectural review of the project should consider the entire 158-acre lot of record on which the proposed building would sit — not just the one structure closest to it.

He added that the campus has very diverse and eclectic architecture and that the limestone and glass design for the visitor center is comparable to many other campus buildings..

He said the tallest building on the lot — University Hall — is 112 feet tal — over 30 feet taller than the visitor center.

While several Preservation Commission members spoke to defend their vote, only a few other residents appeared to support the commission’s position, and, in the end, only aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, voted to uphold the commmission’s position.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why even have commisions if

    Why even have commisions if their opinions aren't even taken into account? The commission's vote was 7-0!

    How much longer are we going to let Northwestern get away with essentially dictating to the residents of this city what they're going to do?

    I'm not suggesting they shouldn't be allowed to build but obviously they didn't do the legwork necessary to get the community on board, otherwise that vote would have been a lot closer. What a joke.

  2. City Council did the right thing

    Thank God the City Council saw beyond Evanston's typical minority of whiners and decided to approve a project — on Northwestern's own land, mind you — that will benefit the greater good!  A rarity, but a delight to see when it happens.

    Glad to see Judy Fiske doing everything she can for the 1st Ward.  Or, rather, the First-Ward-with-Northwestern-University-completely-cut-out.

  3. Rational thinking prevails

    The preservation panel is not an elected representation body. Their point of view is simply an opinion. Thank you to the rational minds on the City Council. Northwestern should be applauded for its forward thinking, job creation, and value to the community on the whole.

  4. The Silent Majority…

    Congratulations to the City Council for realizing the City's interests are greater than a handful of loud opponents.

    Chalk one up for the silent majority.

  5. Cheers for a couple of

    Cheers for a couple of aldermen!  The NU people have expense accounts, and that seems to attract council support before things get built.  Then we see the disaster they've ordained.

  6. Audobon Society

    The best part was when Nayler acknowledged that he had only said that he had spoken to the Audobon Society, implying that the proposal was Audobon-endorsed. Then he revealed that the Society was concerned about the proposed buildng.

    I will never trust the University again.

  7. Lies and the Mayor and Council on NU project ( $1 lease )

    Nu can do with it wants with in the zoning and building code on its property and our council can grant special uses.

    But when our Council and Mayor sell parkland for NU to build their buildings I have a problems with that. Taking over 1/2 arce of city parkland for NU to have a long term lease for an fire lane is not in the public interest. Interestingly the Mayor and her friends are giving NU a $1 lease, the standard lease for their friends, while we taxpayers pay thousands in property taxes and fees.

    The council some time ago, would not pass an ordinance protecting our parkland from sales and now they are starting to sell. ( I am also aware of other projects were park land may be sold, or leased that are coming )

    Paving over our green space is not acceptable, those on the coucil who want to pretend they are in favor of the environment, again shows us their true colors.

    This is not about NU building but our public officials not serving the public interest.

    It is interesting how this was presented in the public record, they misrepresented the land, and hide the fact it was parkland.  This is being more typical how the hide information from the public, yes its there but hidden on page 300, so you can't find it.

    The Mayor now is giving NU more than her cookies.


  8. Preservation Commission role

    I just want to set the record straight on the role and legitimacy of the Evanston Preservation Commission which Mr. Amlaibh (see his comment below) seems to be unaware of.

    The Commission is appointed by the Mayor, and the appointments are ratified by the City Council.  Since 1994, the Preservation Ordinance (you can find it on the City of Evanston website), passed by the City Council, has binding authority over buildings in historic districts and landmarks.  Their votes are thus not just opinions.  The Commission must carefully interpret the ordinance and apply it to a particular proposal.  If the Commission turns down a proposal, the applicant can revise its plans, and return to the Commission for additional review/approval.  If the Commission turns down the proposal, the applicant can appeal the decision to the City Council.  That decision is final, and the applicant's only alternative after that is to sue in Circuit Court.

    This is exactly the process that was followed in the recent application by NU for its visitors' center/parking garage.  All the people who objected based on concern for migrating birds, blocking views, tearing up an area of trees/weeds ARE all opinions.  The unanimous action of the Preservation Commission was not.

    Incidentally, I served two terms on the Commission, and in my six years we had only three or four appeals out of hundreds of projects reviewed.  The City Council, by the way, upheld all our decisions in each of these appeals…..

    Interestingly, during my time on the Commission, the University came before us with eight or ten projects involving either landmark houses or buildings in the Northeast Historic District. They were always carefully prepared, absolutely in conformance with preservation standards, and we always made quick work of our unanimous approvals.  Two of the University's projects, the complete restoration of both Annie May Swift and Harris Hall, won the City's Margery Blair Perkins award for excellence in restoration of a landmark.

    Mary O. Brugliera

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 *