Recap: Economic Development Committee

Here's a recap of our live coverage of this evening's Evanston Economic Development Committee meeting. Exploring a funding mechanism for the proposed Northlight Theatre project on Sherman Avenue downtown is among the items on the agenda.

Meeting called to order at 7:10 p.m.

Entrepreneurship support grant for Lashing Out -- Alicia Skipworth

The city is being asked to approve $1,000 in assistance with ciyt permiting and licensing fees and up to $2,500 for equipment work space and certifications for the new business that will provide skincare, elelash, brown and nail services in retail space at Spex Hand Car Wash, 1235 Dodge Ave.


Storefront Modernization Program for Linmay Studio at 525 Kedzie St.

$696.66 for new signage on a 50/50 cost sharing basis.


Code Evanston Proposal from BLUE 1647

Economic Development Director Paul Zalmezak says the proposal is requesting $75,000 to provide training in coding and web development for about 100 students.

Founder Emile Cambry says his organization has received recentlly a big grant from Google and another from Apple.

Says target market for the program is ages 18 to 34.

Already has operations in Chicago and in other locations.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says the work is amazing -- says excited by the prospect of the program

Hecky Powell, EDC member, asks whether all the participants would be from Evanston ... answer is yes.

Zalmezak says city would only pay for Evanston residents.


Public Comment

Mike Vasilko says he's opposed to starting  new unit of government to fund the theater project.

Says it's a deceptive ploy by the developer to profit from their proposed high-rise project.

Another speaker claims the project would require more infrastructure spending by Objects to "transient" rental buildings.

Peter DeMuth, president of Southeast Evanston Association, says organization opposed the planned 37-story high rise on Sherman.

Claims existing retail stops can't be relocated.

Says should restore the Varsity Theater instead.

(Several other speakers strike similar themes.)

An owner of Alley Gallery says he has 2,500 petition signatures opposing the tower.

Elaina Gonzalez claims Evanston used to have a lot of independent businesses and is losing them to big chains.

Jeanne Lindwall says she just got her property tax bill. Says need to think about the financial impact of the proposal to create another unit of local government.

Says if the state had funds to support projects in Evanston -- why not use it for the Robert Crown Center or library improvements.

Questions whether Northlight can generate the revenue to pay off bonds an authority might issue.

Joan Safford, 51 year resident, says she's here to object -- again (as she has for other developments);

Says there's been a lot that's changed ...but the Sherman Avenue block still looks the same.

Suggests a new theater could be located in one of the buildings west of the tracks on Church Street.

Claire Kelly says Evanston doesn't need another high-rise. 

Toby Sachs says a new development would bring a vibrant community looking forward -- not a dusty mausoleum.

John Engman says any performing arts center needs an anchor tenant -- which could be Northlight -- but should consider having other performing arts groups as part of the center.

Says he doesn't have a preference for or against the height.

Says Varsity space wouldn't work as a theater (despite desires of some other speakers).

Steve Rogan, representative of the ownership of the Varsity, says he's concerned about what the powers and purposes of the special entity being proposed would be.

Mary McWilliams says she's learned to embrace change as a part of the vitality of Evanston. But says change has to respect the character of the community -- and for that reason she opposed the project.

Betty Ester notes that just a few years ago Evanston eliminated a unit of government -- the township that served poor people. Now want to create a new unit of government?

Paul Janicki says his architecture practice is in the 1718 Sherman building. Says the project is a poster child for how not to do green architecture.

Says there are plenty of one and two story parcels around Evanston that aren't notable and need economic development.

Says the new building would have dead lobby spaces that will kill the block from an urbanistic point of view.

Says shouldn't make more new bland modernistic buildings.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says the development and the unit of government are tied together. Says hopes will reject the proposal to explore creating the new unit of government.

Says a re talking about 50 small businesses that can't afford market-rate rents and will be gone if they have to move.

Says what the committee is being asked to do is wrong -- it's wrong to put any of these businesses out of business.

Says once you start the ball rolling you won't stop it until the end. Says there will be vacancies because people are on short-term leases.

Says this block is performing, probably better than any other block in the downtown.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says Evanston is a very special place -- but also a dynamic and changing place.

Says the proposal would bring Northlight back to Evanston and have a development that would in part fund Northlight and bring additional economic activity to the downtown.

Says Farpoint and Northlight understand that this is difficult and has to be done thoughtfully.

Says this is another step. It's not an approval of a project. Not approval of a planned development.

But it's an effort to find a way to fund Northlight's return. Says finances for theaters are very difficult.

City Council has commissioned multiple studies on a performing arts center. With Evanston's failure to move forward, Skokie did and that caused Northlight to leave.

Bobkeiwicz says thinks there no interest in having the new entity being able to assess taxes or have eminent domain power.

When think about the vibrancy of downtown now -- it's because there's enough parking-- with the Maple Avenue and Sherman Plaza garages.

Now if there's going to be a new development -- need to consider whether also need additional parking.

Says need to get answers now seeking before a planned development application is submitted.

Just asking to be able to investigate what options may be available for financing and parking.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says council expects city manager and staff to bring ideas to the council -- put them on an agenda and have meetings like this.

All got messages saying people are disgusted with us that its outrageous. But don't think that's the case.

Says have gotten dozens of email messages in support of tthe project as a whole and even more who may not favor the tower do favor Northlight.

Says we don't things in places. "I don't get to pick whether somebody wants to sell their land," Wilson says.

Says philosophically he disagrees with having additional units of government.

Says he's not comfortable with the large building that's been proposed.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says she comes out a different door from Wilson on this. Says she's puzzled about what we're trying to do here.

Says wants a lot more answers before would vote to move forward.

Says should have a better explanation of what a single unit of government is and how they've worked out.

Says she's a fan of Northlight -- but she's a patron of all the businesses that would be destroyed.

Says every single community that's built a performing arts center has lost money.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says there's no way she would authorize any steps forward to approve this project.

Wilson says it seems the manager was looking for permission to do the research, and also a broader front-end discussion.

Says it's very useful to have a front-end discussion (unlike with the 601 Davis project that percolated for two years and then was rejected).

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, says this is not an approval for the project, or a rubber stamp. Says it's permission to have a conversation.

Seems shortsighted to reject the concept out of hand.

Says he's OK with getting additional information. But has concerns with the height of the building and other issues.

Rainey says its not like this committee to not want to understand a tool that may be useful for this project or some other project ... at tool that we've never used before.

The least we can do is to find out how this mechanism works, Rainey says.

Mary Beth Berns says she doesn't see the harm in doing the research.

Hecky Powell says he'd like to have the knowledge.

Wilson proposes striking section 4 from the resolution (which calls for sending adivce to the goernor and legislature) and also striking the whereas clause about the specific locaion.

Rainey says he land lease on the property runs out in 2023 -- says her understanding is that NU is no longer interested in probably owning that property.

Says what if the city starts coming around and asks about plumbing -- how can you have a business without a toilet -- there's no toilets in the alley businesses, she says.

Rainey says half the letters are pro and half are con 

Vote to recommend to the City Council that the manager be directed to do the research is approved 4-3.

No votes from Wynne, Wilson and Simmons.

Meeting djourned at 9:47 p.m.




The purpose of having a government

The purpose to having a government is to put resources into places where the collective will benefit but individual residents cannot do by themselves. Spending money to subsidize for profit businesses is not the way to spend resident’s taxes. A theatre, even if a for profit one is. This is because the arts create a vibrancy that cannot be achieved otherwise. Yes, it will lose money, that’s why the government intervenes. I’d rather spend the money there than subsidizing signs and developments for businesses who are supposed to make money on their own.


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