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Aldermen split on aid to groups

Evanston aldermen approved four grant requests Monday, but turned down a fifth because of concerns about cost overruns.

Land trust turned down

The aldermen rejected 5-4 a request for $20,000 from the Citizens’ Lighthouse Community Land Trust that would have been used to pay off a bank loan made in connection with the group’s sale of a house it had rehabilitated on Washington Street.

The aldermen twice before approved additional funds for the group on the same project as a result of problems making the subsidized housing plan work in the midst of the recent turmoil in the real estate market.

In all, the city has now paid $141,600 toward the project. The building was sold to a private buyer for $169,000 last year, but the land trust retains title to the lot the home sits on.

Aldermen Fiske, Jean-Baptiste, Tendam and Wynne voted in favor of the grant.

Business incubator funding OK’d

The aldermen approved unanimously a request for $100,000 in support for the Technology Innovatation Center, but demanded that the group expand its board of directors and provide more detailed reporting on its performance to win future support.

The center is now controlled by a three-member board that consists of Charles Happ and his wife and Tim Lavengood, the center’s executive director.

Happ also owns both buildings in which the TIC and its client startup businesses rent space.

Happ says the center was "broke and homeless" about five years ago when he became involved with it after the city and Northwestern University backed away from supporting it.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the grant amounts to half of the group’s total budget and "we shouldn’t give 50 percent of a budget to anybody."

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she would like to see the group have a substantially larger board.

"I want to see it succeed," Fiske said, but she said the group needs a broader base of business expertise to achieve that success.

Happ has already agreed to have the city’s community and economic development director, Lehman Walker, or another city representative added to the board and said he’d consider further additions.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the center "is an important, key economic engine for the city" but that the city needs to help the group come up with a new model that will help move it forward as well as honor the financial arrangements that are in place.

"We have to separate the incubator from the real estate," Bobkiewitz said, and again have the city and the university more heavily involved.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she understood the concerns raised by aldermen but said the center is "the best game in town for buiding and keeping new businesses in Evanston."

More funds for foreclosure prevention

The aldermen also approved allocating $600,000 of federal HOME funds to Brinshore Development LLC for rehab work in connection with the $18 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant the city received last December. The city risked having the funds reclaimed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development if it didn’t commit to a plan for spending them by the end of this month.

Other grants

The aldermen also approved without debate a request for $80,000 from the Evanston Community Development Corporation to run a micro-loan program and $11,000 for facade improvements to the Behles + Behles building at 816-18 Church St.

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