Scheme A
Scheme A

Evanston’s aldermen will face several disparate options when they meet in secret Wednesday to discuss where to headquarter city government.

Scheme A

Evanston’s aldermen will face several disparate options when they meet in secret Wednesday to discuss where to headquarter city government.

Scheme A

A rendering looking east along Emerson Street of “Scheme A” for a proposed west side civic center, showing a mixed use retail, residential and parking structure in the foreground and the government office building in the background. 

Move to west side 

A new proposal, floated by property owners, developers and residents of the city’s west side, calls for making a new Civic Center an anchor for redevelopment of the former Mayfair industrial corridor.

That plan would locate two new buildings on the south side of Emerson Street between Ashland and Darrow Avenues.

One would house the city’s offices and City Council chamber, the other would provide parking plus ground floor retail space, and possibly some residential units.

The initial sketch plans developed by FitzGerald Associates Architects also show a bicycle path along the old rail corridor that diagonally bisects the site.

Scheme B

A rendering looking southwest of “Scheme B” of the west side civic center concept, which places the government office building on the west side of the site, with the parking garage and retail structure on the east side.

Nearly two-dozen community leaders, property owners and developers active on the city’s west side voiced unanimous support for this plan at a community meeting on Dec. 21.

Backers, led by developers Walter Kihm and Ron Fleckman of Cyrus Homes, have been meeting individually with aldermen to explain the concept during the past few weeks.

The proposed site, totalling about 160,000 square feet, is owned by Leon Robinson and once housed parking areas and repair shops for the bus service he operated.

It is bordered by a Commonwealth Edison power substation, which makes it a difficult location for the conventional residential developments proposed for the site in the city’s draft west side plan. The Evanston Plan Commission is scheduled to continue its review of that plan Wednesday night.

Property Mr. Robinson owns just north of the proposed Civic Center site is included in a proposed Cyrus Homes development of 139 units of mixed-income housing that has just begun to work its way through the city’s development review process. That project also includes the former Bishop Freeman industrial site on Foster Street.

Renovate the existing building 

Meanwhile the Friends of the Civic Center organization has launched a new web site and is continuing to circulate petitions seeking to place an advisory referendum on the April ballot that would call on the City Council to keep the Civic Center where it has been for over 30 years, in the former Marywood Academy building at 2100 Ridge Ave.

Civic Center

The current Civic Center.

The group hopes to have collected more than 2,000 petition signatures by later this month.

While aldermen have not been able to reach agreement on a new site for the Civic Center, one thing the did agree on a year ago is that they didn’t want to stay in the existing building — claiming that it would cost too much to repair.

However that argument may have lost some force recently with the decision by City Manager Julia Carroll to eliminate the job of Facilities Director Max Rubin, who had strongly argued against staying in the building.

In addition, Ms. Carroll, in the context of the city’s overall capital needs, said last week, “Maintenance is much cheaper than complete reconstruction of city facilities.”

Some advocates of retaining the existing building have suggested that its site, at 287,000 square feet, is large enough to include new residential construction on air-rights over the parking lot that could finance needed repairs to the building.

Old Rotary building

With the recent decision by the Methodist Pension Board to start the approval process for a new headquarters building on its property at the southwest corner of Ridge Avenue and Davis Street, it’s possible the former Rotary International Headquarters on the northwest corner of the intersection may be on the market in the not-too-distant future.

Old Rotary building 

The former Rotary International headquarters.

The pension board, which acquired the Rotary building after the Rotarians moved to the former American Hospital Supply headquarters at Sherman Avenue and Grove Street, has been short on parking space in its two mid-century buildings, but has had an excess of office space as its staff has dwindled in recent years.

The proposed new building would solve the parking problem and let the pension board consolidate its offices in a single building.

Pension board officials insist they haven’t made a final decision to rebuild on the existing site and say they’re still also considering relocating elsewhere in the Chicago suburbs. And it’s not known whether the city has discussed acquiring the former Rotary building from the Methodists.

The old Rotary building is a three-story, limestone-faced structure with a total of about 75,000 square feet of space on a 78,000 square-foot lot.

But it’s shortage of parking would require either constructing a new building on the site, requiring city workers to park in one of the downtown garages or finding another site nearby to use for parking.

Library parking lot

The aldermen reportedly have considered building a new city hall on the parking lot behind the Evanston Public Library.

Library parking lot

Looking east across the library parking lot to Chicago Avenue and the apartment building that also houses the city’s Church Street parking garage.

The parking lot has one great advantage — the city already owns it. But it’s also, at about 32,000 square feet, by far the smallest of the sites under consideration.

The city is reportedly seeking 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of office space, and wants parking for more than 200 cars. That would likely require a building at least eight-stories tall to fit on the parking lot site.

And the parking lot is bordered to the north and south by National Register landmarks — the Woman’s Club of Evanston and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Headquarters. That makes opposition from local preservationists a strong possibility if the aldermen choose this site.

Farmers Market lot

It’s known that many city employees strongly favor building a new civic center in the core downtown area. Among other reasons, they’d like ready access to downtown’s many lunch-time dining spots.

But another possible downtown site appears to have become snarled in town-gown disputes.

Farmers Market lot

Farmers Market parking lot

When members of the Northwestern Neighbors group, which has vigorously opposed any loosening of zoning restrictions on the university, learned that the city was considering a deal with Northwestern to acquire the parking lot the university owns in Research Park that’s now used for the weekly Farmer’s Market, they assumed rezoning of some other university land would be part of the deal and raised a ruckus.

City and university officials deny such a deal was in the works. But the university has also said it’s not interested in selling the 50,000-square-foot property. If the city tried to seize the land by eminent domain, that would almost certainly trigger a multi-year court fight with the school.

In addition, some residents of the Research Park area who oppose planned new residential developments there also say they fear construction of a civic center on the Farmers Market site would snarl traffic in the neighborhood.

Aldermen have been very tight-lipped about their deliberations, and it’s not clear what other properties they may be considering or how close they may be to reaching a decision.

Related stories

West side Civic Center proposed – Dec. 20, 2006

Planners: Boost west side diversity – Nov. 13, 2006

West side street grid debated – Dec. 20, 2006

Site wins moratorium exemption – Dec. 13, 2006

‘Friends’ start Civic Center petition drive – Dec. 20, 2006

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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