Evanston aldermen tonight are scheduled to vote on leasing a half-acre parcel of lakefront land to Northwestern University to provide a fire lane for a planned new visitor center on the campus.

The leased land would also provide a new connection between city- and university-owned bicycle and pedestrian paths along the lakefront.

The aldermen last month overruled the city’s Preservation Commission and concluded on a 6-2 vote that the visitor center project was not inconsistent with the architectural character of the campus.

Opponents of the project have argued that the lease amounts to a give-away of city land to the university.

City officials counter, in a memo to aldermen, that the university will make more than $250,000 worth of improvements in the public right of way as part of the project, as well as paying over $14,500 for a one-year construction lease and nearly $174,000 in tree replacement fees to be used for additional plantings along the lakefront.

The memo also asserts that any extension of the lease beyond its initial 25-year term would be negotiated for a lease fee of no less than the city’s standard easement fee of $0.50 per square foot, or over $10,000 per year for the entire parcel.

Top: A detail from a landscaping plan for the visitor center project. The city land to be leased for the fire lane is located to the south of the building.

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NU visitor center gets ‘F’ from preservationists

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. NU land lease NO

    The lakefront is one of the most precious and fragile resources that Evanston has. There are alternatives to this NU request!

    I believe NU should be able to build whatever they want on their campus (I actually wish the visitor center was more architecturally exciting/challenging- for a leading school, their new structures do not reflect their academic aspirations). As with any land owner, one has to build within their property lines. NU has the space, and flexibility, to design structures to fit within their property lines. Maybe the current design cannot be shoehorned into NU's property. Fortunately the design only lives on paper- NU just needs to slightly alter their design. Is it arrogant or gutsy that NU knowingly pursued a design that would require taking beachfront parkland away from the City? Either way, it's a bad deal for Evanston and the lakefront environment.

    NU’s design solution is not neighborly. I understand not necessarily wanting to raise a stink with NU because of the benefit of the bike path, but this request by NU seems to undermine many of the positive NU/Evanston relations. Essentially NU is pushing Evanston and Evanston is accepting it to avoid conflict.

    1. Not an Inch

      This is a parking garage first and formost. As a second generation graduate of Northwestern University, I am ashamed that they would even consider such a eyesore… As a lifelong resident of Evanston, I am even more ashamed of my elected officials for bowing to NU's sweat-talking sales job.

      1. A commanding view for cars

        But, Sam, Northwestern wants these vehicles to have a commanding view of the lake! That's why they'd take up prime lakefront real estate with a parking structure. Imagine a Mercedes-Benz cuddled up against a BMW, watching the waves crash, cooing, "Oh, isn't that just beautiful?"

  2. Let them pay

    Let 'em build their parking garage.

    The city already missed its chance to force NU to do reasonable land use planning. NU has already built over much of the their parking in the core of campus. It's this visitor center/parking structure, or NU will buy yet more taxable land in Evanston and throw up a parking garage somewhere else we really don't want it.

    But we don't need to give it away, either. Let's at least make 'em pay market rates. NU is run by businessmen and accountants. C'mon City Council members: Treat them like the businessmen they are, and bargain with them. NU can afford to pay to use city land.

  3. NU’s endowment as of 2011: $7 billion. Yeah, they need a deal.

    The city is giving up valuable lakefront real estate (that was set aside for the citizens of Evanston in perpetuity) for $1-a-year to an institution that is currently sitting on endowmnet valued at $7,182,745,000. And we're supposed to rejoice because the university is going to cover landscaping and let us ride our bikes on the new path?

    What is the current square foot value of lakefront property? Now, how much is that property worth over, say, the next 100 years? And, perhaps even the larger question, why would this council think it is a good idea to cede any lakefront property that is held in the public trust? Once we give it up, it is not coming back.

    As I note in a comment in Bill's piece on how a Republican could win in Evanston (a separate topic I won't discuss here), voters may question the sense of fiscal and civic repsonsibility of any alderman who votes in favor of this giveaway (and, yes, it would be a giveaway) to NU.

    What I find perplexing is that for all of the bonhomie exhibited between the mayor and Morton Schapiro, how come the mayor hasn't prevailed upon Schapiro to make an annual, in-kind contribution to city coffers in lieu of taxes as so many of Northwestern peer private institutions have done, including Pinceton, Yale, Harvard, MIT, Brown and Duke? (These annual contributions in lieu of taxes are typically in the $2-3 mllion a year range.)

    According to a review of 2011 university/college endowments , Northwestern has the ninth largest endowment in the nation.

    I am befuddled why we would need to give away lakefront property to NU, given this type of endowment. If anything, we should be talking with the university about making an annual payment in lieu of taxes.




    1. Endowment per student

      If you break down the Endowment by student

                          Endowment($billions)          Per Undergrad ($million)   Per Total($million)

      Harvard             31.7                                  4.7                                           1.5

      Princeton          17.1                                  2.2                                            1.3

      MIT                     9.7                                    2.6                                            .9

      NU                     7.2                                      .9                                            .4

      i.e. NU has $400,000 Endowment per student vrs Harvard $1,500,000 per student.

      Maybe too much but poor compared to these other schools.


      Many parents and maybe students later in life when paying off bills and trying to get a job, wish schools would spend more on education than what seems to be what they look for, as below.

      Students always want NU [and other schools the same] to have more student unions, recreation facilities, green spaces, pay 'living wage', donate to a multitude of causes, have majors/additional faculty for various gender, country, ethic, etc. fields, top ranked sports teams [who seem to make alot of money but not give much back to the school], a new music building, new sports buildings, more athletics fields, and so on.


      Of course if the city wants to control what NU can build [frankly I think it is very overdone], they may decide to restrict access to the buildings [like the libraries as most top private schools do] and to the landfill [note the signs already warn about much being private property].. 


      1. Your response to my post is a non sequitir

        It's not a matter of the "city controlling what they build." Northwestern is asking for a parcel of public land — half an acre of lakefront property. And the city is proposing to give it to them for a song.

        Crying poor about NU's endowment on a per student basis relative to Harvard, Princeton and MIT doesn't seem particularly germane to the discussion. The point is that NU has plenty of money to pay for the parcel at market rates. The other part of the argument is about whether or not it is wise for the city to give up any of our very limited public lakefront to a developer, be it the university or any other organization or entity.

        It would be helpful if your argument was focused on the issues at hand rather than simply throwing up smoke about a host of unrelated issues.

  4. Gifts from the Mayor and Council to NU ( the 1%)

    Who is the Mayor and city council really representing?  Our interests or NU?  Nu like any owner of property is required to build to zoning and the ordinance.  If your property does allow you to build what you want you modify your plans. 

    What is happening here is the City is allowing NU to build almost to the property line, by selling OUR parkland to NU, in a sweet heart deal. 

    What our the public officials getting here from NU for this?  They are getting something, since they are not getting a good deal for us taxpayers.  While I am not saying anyone is breaking any law, there are many things here that should raise concerns. 

    Wally and the council did not put a ordinance in place to protect parklland. Wally talks of another land swap with NU, so we know more of this is coming.  NU knows this is a done, deal since it appears they are into construction drawings, prior to getting the land from the city.  Note the council over ruled the presevation commission, and it members who rejected this, therefore you know that this was a done deal. The board is composed of competent people, not like our Mayor who is a college drop out and council members of questionable skill level.

    Wally and his less the competence staff present a proposal to the public at the first meeting of $1, public out cry appears to have raise the costs for NU. But still not enough.

    While Park should not have been sold in the first place and NU should have been required to revise their plans, NU should have been required to pay the going rate. 

    I would suggest they should have been require to pay close to $1 million dollars as a one time payment and at least $100,000 a year.  

    Why would you give a weatlh institute NU our valuable land, for almost nothing, when the city is really almost broke. ( don't let the zero tax increase fool you, Wally is planning to raise the water bills right after the election )

    The Mayor is not one of us, she protects the special interests, such as NU and developers, her background of wealth has blurred her vision, some council members are going along with this since they appear to be interested more in their own egos, versus the public interest. Remember they were all mashing it up with their friends from NU, not so long ago, and not one of them even bother to come to the budget meeting.

  5. Nonsense

    All these complaints are just nonsense.  Maybe NU should do what all of you are yammering on about and move the building a few feet back.  At the same time they then should completely block off all public non NU access to the lakefront right at their border along the lake.  Maybe post security and turn back anyone without NU issued identification.   

    Instead the council let them build on a few feet of public land and in return we the public, everyone, too all of our public benefit, gets very much improved, landscaped, well maintained at no further cost to us, direct access along all of the privately owned NU lakefront for strolling and biking. 

    Bravo council for not giving in to the sky has fallen handwringing, thank you NU for creating better access to your property along the lakefront and keeping that access open for everyone to enjoy. It's a great improvment and a real public benefit to all Evanston residents.

    1. You reply is real Nonsense

      You are down playing the fact NU is using 1/2 acre of city parkland, You are saying NU can move the building back a few feet, so what would that do?  They still need the fire lane,  Your other statement about taking a few feet of city land is also bongus, its a half acre, 

      Maybe you can posted your plan showing NU moving the building back a few feet, so we can all laugh.

      A 1/2 acre of land  taken up by a fire lane does not allow them to build this building in the location they want, so our city officials are happy to sell our land, for nothing.

      For all we know you work for NU. along with the Mayor and city council.who clearly are not working for us.


      1. More nonsense

        Not surprising you missed the point entirely.  You think you're some kind of hardball player, ok here was your best pitch.  Charge them 1 million plus 10K per year rental.  that gets the citizens of Evanston exactly nothing whatsoever. nada, zilch, because that simply won't happen.  Nobody on the planet would pay that ridiculous pulled out of your, er, hat, fantasy. 

        But then you'll say don't let them build, make them move back a few feet, literally, make them provide their own fire lane.  Now that also generates for the citizens of Evanston,  well, absolutely nothing whatsoever, again, nada zilch.

        But your hardball pitching could have a unintended reaction, my point being that their response to such a wild pitch could be that NU would be within their rights to close access to the lakefront.  Gate the area, access with NU ID only.  At the very least make the southern exposure much less open to outside pedestrians and cyclist.  Now not only have you gained nada zilch for the citizens, you may actually cost us lakefront access with NU for the great return of, once again, nada zilch. 

        Instead clear headed thinking ruled the day and the citizens of Evanston will now gain more direct open access to an improved lakefront pathway, landscaped and maintained on NU's dime.  Anyone in Evanston smart enough to have taken advantage of that access, strolling the lakefront, the landfill, northbeach, stopping by Block, knows what great benefit this impovment is for the Citizens of Evanston.  Much better than whats there now,  much better for the local community and much better than nada zilch.

    2. NU and its Rights

      NU would also be within its rights to restrict access to the libraries to NU afflicated people.  The Main library is a 'Government Respositor' and thus must have some access hours for the public but I assume those could be scaled back or other limits made such as to the 'stacks' or computers.  The Engineering, Math and Music [other?] would have no such restrictions.

      Most prominate private universities give no access to their library without a reference from the person's university library that they don't have the requested book.  U.Chicago gives no access.  Harvard, as far as I knew a few years ago, charges alumni and even non-GSB students could not use the business library.

      I'm not saying that NU by any means is perfect*, but if the city wants to keep harassing NU—well they have their responses.

      All the buildings they put up, 'dippy' [as Richard Feynman use to say about Cornell and why he left for CalTech] courses and majors, etc. instead of spending on quality education, is pretty dumb but that is the parents, students and alumni to decide and pay for.

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