The Autobarn is planning to seek three forms of government assistance as part of its plan to convert the shuttered Shure headquarters building on Hartrey Avenue to a vehicle preparation and storage center for its three Evanston dealerships.

Alderman Ann Rainey with Autobarn owner Richard Fisher.

The Autobarn is planning to seek three forms of government assistance as part of its plan to convert the shuttered Shure headquarters building on Hartrey Avenue to a vehicle preparation and storage center for its three Evanston dealerships.

At a news conference this morning at the site, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the plan represents a big win for the city’s economic development efforts.

The city’s Economic Development Committee is scheduled to begin discussion tonight of a package of government aid for the project.

Johanna Nyden of the city’s development staff said that package would likely include reduced property taxes, a loan or grant from an expanded Howard-Hartrey tax increment financing district and an extension of a sales tax rebate that Autobarn received for expanding one of its existing dealerships.

Fisher says the cost to purchase and rehabilitate the Hartrey building and do more planned work at the Chicago Avenue dealerships is likely to total $8.5 million.

Details of the aid package have not yet been worked out.

Several neighbors from the residential area that adjoins the Hartrey site turned out for the news conference.

Neighbors whose homes are just east of the old Shure site raised questions about noise, traffic and security at the property and seemed pleased with the answers they received.

Fisher, pointing toward Hartrey Avenue, said no traffic would enter the facility from that direction.

Instead, he said, access would be from the intersection of Howard Street and Kedzie Avenue, through the shopping center parking lot and past the Vineyard Christian Church building.

He said he’s considering LED lighting for the storage lot to reduce light scatter and energy use.

Autobarn now stores hundreds of cars at three lots in Chicago, Skokie and Evanston.

The much of the company’s storage space on Emerson Street in Evanston, at the former Robinson Bus Company property, is expected to be turned into rental housing in a planned second phase of the city’s Emerson Square low income housing development.

Fisher said while he’s generally had few problems with security at that site, last week, with construction underway nearby, 35 cars in the lot were vandalized.

He said he hopes lights, cameras and security gates at the Hartrey site will be sufficient for security there, but that he may have to hire an overnight security guard — but did not plan to use guard dogs on the property.

Fisher, who lives in Evanston, said nearly two dozen different car makes were sold on Chicago Avenue in Evanston in the late 1960s — including exotic ones like Peugeot and Alfa Romeo.

Now his dealerships — which sell Volkswagens, Nissans and Mazdas — are the only ones left.

He said his dealerships have been the biggest sales tax generators in the city in most recent years — exceeded only by Home Depot in 2011.

Update 7/25/13 10:45 a.m.: Wednesday night’s EDC meeting was cancelled for lack of a quorum when only five of the 11 members turned out. A special EDC meeting now has been scheduled to discuss the Autobarn proposal at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. A good idea

    Moving auto dealerships off of commercial avenues is a time tested approach to economic development.  Even though the Autobarn generates large sales tax revenue, the real estate it occupies on Chicago Avenue is undervalued as an auto dealer.  New commercial development in its place will generate far greater sales tax revenues for the City.  Plus, a great adaptive re-use of the Shure property will garner far better revenue than the other proposed ideas for that site.  In similar auto relocation deals, the tax incentive to the auto dealer is typically equal to the cost of renovation since the sale/purchase transaction typically off-sets one another.

    Good deal.


    UPDATE:  the plan is not to move the dealerships off of Chicago Avenue.  That makes this a neutral deal for the City.  It is simply a business retention plan. 

  2. What is the role of government?

    Gee, another for-profit business wants subsidies (to remain in Evanston). Is anyone surprised?  However, it's not all gloom and doom.  By offering lower property taxes and sales tax rebates, the city will at least indirectly confirm that it understands the necessity of competitive tax rates.

    However, if prohibitive sales and property taxes are the problem, wouldn't the solution be to lower them for everyone?  How can we expect businesses that don't receive subsidies to compete against those that do?   How can a city that prides itself on "fairness" endorse such an unfair system?

    Most importantly, since when is it the role of government to pick winners and losers (while financing both)?

    Granting these tax breaks on a case by case basis only ensures that subsidized entities will have an unfair advantage over unsubsidized ones.

    Simply put, if we believe in fairness, we cannot support this practice.

  3. Same old, same old

    So what is new ? They learned their lesson about the city well.

    1. Announce you plan to move in, build, renovate, etc..

    2. Ask for money from the city.

    3. [Next step if rejected] threaten to cancel plans

    4. Wail for city to declare you a national treasurer that will prompt business from all over Illinois that will save Evanston finances.  Aldermen, esp. from the Ward will pressure Council.

    5. Get ready for the city to give you even more than you asked for [or wanted/needed].

    6. Respond with even bigger plans.

    7. Return to 1. and cycle through again.

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