Two economic development projects for south Evanston moved forward this week over the objections of Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward.

The City Council introduced a plan to lease the former city recycling center on Oakton Street to Smylie Brothers for a brewery, tap room and beer garden.

And it authorized the city manager to sign a memorandum of understanding with Theo Ubique to lease a city-owned storefront on Howard Street for use as a cabaret theater.

Miller objected to plans for the city to build a parking lot on land it owns between the recycling center and the animal shelter, saying “we’re kidding ourselves if we think this is for James Park.”

But Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes both project sites, said there’s been a shortage of parking around the park for years and the new lot would benefit families going to soccer practice and other events in the park as well as patrons of the animal shelter and the nearby sports dome, as well as customers at the brewery.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said revenue from the pay-station lot would cover the roughly $850,000 cost of creating the lot over the 20-year term of bonds issued to pay for it.

Rainey said Smylie Brothers “could expand to Skokie instead” and will be paying $13,000 a month to the city for the recycling center site,

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the proposal was “a good, active reuse” of a vacant property and would bring more retail activity to the community. “This is a perfect example of how we should spend our money,” Wynne added.

The vote to introduce the brewery lease was 8-1, with Miller casting the only no vote. The lease is scheduled for final approval at the Council’s Dec. 12 meeting.

When the theater project came up for discussion, Miller said he had doubts about whether Theo Ubique could raise the $204,000 that is to be its contribution to the cost of converting the storefront buildings.

Miller, who is one of four candiates seeking to become the city’s next mayor, said Theo Ubique, which now stages its plays at the No Exit Cafe space in Rogers Park, has never raised anywhere near as much money in the past.

The plan calls for the city to pay $1.4 million toward the project cost — with that money to come from the Howard Ridge tax increment financing district.

Miller cast the only no vote on the theater project. The theater plans will return to Council for final approval after further negotiation between the theater group and the city.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Common sense

    Miller seems to be the only one with real common sense on the council. Has my vote if he does indeed end up running. 

  2. Saying no is not best way forward

    As for Mr. Miller, saying no to everything is not really a viable way forward. I recall, decades ago, when Evanston said "no" quite a bit (alcohol sales, high rise buildings, etc.) and we ended up a pretty sleepy and rundown backwater for awhile. I much prefer the present Evanston. These are exciting projects and I hope they work out.

    1. brewery/theatre projects
      Mr. Miller is taking a stance that should have been taken for the Dodge bike lanes debacle. Lots of ideas can “sound good” but making them work well is something Evanston is poor in enacting. The dark monolithic tower that Wynne and Tisdahl took credit at Main/Chicago is one example. It is a DARK foreboding tower, particularly at NIGHT.

    2. Miller = Trump

      Miller claims he wants to clean up Evanston but take a look at his day job.  Don't forget the bike light silliness.  His screaming about "cleaning" up Evanston sounds very similar to Donald Trump.  We don't want a Trump style Mayor here, and it does not need Miller Time….

    3. Planning & Development

      Evanston being a "liveable city" is questionable as to how it reponds to all of the projects that have no relevance to being liveable.

      1) Cleaning up the quid pro quo all well and good; 2) The waste management station is still questionable in a residential neighborhood that happened years ago – didnt say no;. 3) A beer garden as it relates to a location that is for the children and not for adult consumption in need of a liquor license – say no; 4) Theatre on Howard Street is not unusual as it is open to alcohol, restaurants, ,etc;.6) a store that distributes legalized drugs in a business district across from a theater hmmm:.  7) what happened to the sewer issues that we are still paying down on our water bill that is/was attached to the bonds over 20 yrs ago? Has that been resolved or still on going for all the sewer work that has been done, and in the future for the water issues that are being discussed. Do we need a mayor? Seems like the city manager has more control over budget with his huge raise and civil rights issues.  Something is wrong with this picture. The town is still sleepy regarding real issues.

  3. Brewery & theater Miller votes
    He’s wrong on the former and right on the latter. A cabaret format will never be viable on Howard street. And at least he knows how to say “no”

    1. Where have I heard that before?

      That's what we heard about Peckish Pig–oh, a quality restaurant on Howard Street will never succeed. Or a quality bar like Ward 8…never will make it, right?

      Drive on by those places and see all the happy people inside, enjoying a nice evening out while spending money in Evanston.  Sales taxes instead of empty shops.  Better yet–bring family or friends, park the car and come on in and enjoy yourself.   

      Check the crime reports. Things are changing on Howard Street.  Welcome to the neighborhood, live theater on Howard. 

  4. Build it and they will come
    Parking is definitely and issue at James Park…but people will not park there if they can park for free at the lot by Mt. Trashmore. I say, build the parking lot and then ban parking on the South side of Oakton and add a REAL protected bike lane that will provide safe access to the path along the Canal and the Skokie bike lane on Main, thus providing a relatively safe biking route to the forest preserve and beyond…. Once again, I see a pattern here: Evanston over-accommodating automobiles while those of us who can’t drive or would rather walk/bike are left hanging….

  5. School, Senior Center, Parks, Animal Shelter and…Brewery???

    This makes no sense.  Why is a brewery going in a residential neiborhood right next to a park where our kids play sports? The parking lot will be a pay lot so peole will still park on the streets.  The brewery will smell bad and reduce the quality of life in the neighborhood even more than the poor drinking water. Why does it seem the Evanston City Council gives out liquor licenses like candy? When local sports teams offered to occupy they were told "no" by Ann Rainey because it doesn't make the city money, it only benefits families and kids. Don't our children matter more than the money? This adds no value to my neighborhood ot the City.

    1. Brewery / Sale of City Land

      If this were in the works at Harley Clark, so many people would turn out to speak against it that it would naturally need to be buried. What the people who support keeping Harley Clark do not realize is that precedent is being set on our side of town in the form of adding saleable city property as an option to this deal. You are right…. this should have been something additive for our children. Instead, we get a brewery and a smallish beer garden in an area that is proliferated with activities for children. Add to that the streets that are engineered to facilitate speeding of the many irresponsible drivers out there and it is just a matter of time before a child gets hurt or worse. Our city, with all of the development that has gone on, has become much more dense and it is time for our traffic engineers to look more closely at all of our streets, especially those in South and Southwest Evanston where they are treated like country highways, and give us some engineering to adequately control traffic so that speeding cannot occur at the high rate it currently enjoys.  Traffic lights are being added on Howard and Main, but Oakton, Dodge, Dempster, Asbury and Ridge continue to be ignored.  Our city needs to stop being a better deal for the Chicago cut-through drivers.  Our tax dollars are being spent to maintain streets for people that are cutting through because lack of engineering makes them a better deal than taking Howard or Touhy in Chicago where local residents are protected from speeding traffic with adequate engineering.  Just last night some drunk had a rollover accident on Asbury.  I guess a beer garden on Oakton Street near a major park and THREE schools is ok for our city officials, but I care more about the safety of our children and local families.  If this thing has to come, we need traffic engineers to come to the table as well.  They need to bring safety to our streets to stave off speeding opportunities.  Period.

      1. Smylie Bros Brewpub / Sale of City Building

        I understand the desire to have programs that support youth, but where does the funding come from? Do we ask families to foot the bill of the cost of maintaining programming space like Harley-Clark and the recycyling center? No, the cost of programming could not provide the required income to maintain these properties. Do we raise taxes on residents? Good luck. The way to add (youth) services to the community is by creating a stronger tax base which helps subsidize them. One of the ways to do that is to get city-owned properties that are currently sitting empty back to being tax generators where it makes sense.

        I think everyone who speaks on this matter should visit Smylie Bros. location in downtown. This is not a brewery or college bar. It is, in fact, a restaurant that is quite family friendly and brews its own beer on premise. Many times when I have been there, several families with children are enjoying a night out. I welcome their addition to south Evanston.

        Yes, people do speed through town; not just on arterial streets, but many of our side streets as well. Reducing speed should be a concern on every street in Evanston, but we must be careful to calm traffic but not impede it. If traffic on arterial streets becomes too congested, drivers will go to side streets to avoid congestion. People will not go to Howard or McCormick if it is out of their way.

        A traffic engineer once told me that people will drive as fast as they feel is safe on any given street. Not reassuring that posted traffic speeds are often viewed as guidelines. But I would ask: Have there been traffic studies that show this is cut-through traffic from Chicago? What percentage of it is Evanston residents, or from Skokie, WIlmette, etc? How does the city prevent traffic from moving to side streets? Does it make sense to add more traffic lights along Oakton, Dodge, Ridge, Asbury, Dempster? They already have traffic lights at major intersections and near their commercial districts. And many of these streets are maintained through a combination of city and state tax dollars, which may require the state to provide input.

        Finally, I would argue that a responsible business, which already operates in town and now wants to open on Oakton, should not be labeled as against the safety of children and local families. The attempt to connect this establishment to a drunk driving accident over the weekend or the general traffic woes in a densly populated city is a stretch. I recognize speeding and congestion are problems, but they will not be solved by denying this project.  

        1. Smylie Brothers / Sale of City Owned Property

          I'm not a fan of selling this property that is adjacent to the sporting field that we all know as James Park, but I am not against leasing the property.  Once a property is sold, there are no protections for local residents should a new owner decide to sell yet again.  With a lease, the city maintains control. 

          That being said, I'd be interested in a few resolutions to the issue of speeding traffic rather than pointing out why we should be careful in attempting to fix issues.  With regard to side streets, cut-through traffic may be an issue, but only in volume because side street residents have options that can address speeding traffic…. traffic circles and speed bumps are plentiful on the side streets in the area between Asbury/Dodge/Oakton/Main.  The residents that live on artery streets and the children that go to these schools have no such protections.  I am no fan of adding STOP signs or additional traffic lights, but we have to cater to the weakest link in our human chain and that means any street that is heavily populated with children should have protections added in the form of STOP signs or traffic signals so that we can ensure no parent ever gets a call that their child has been hit by a car by one of our speeding brethren…. and we all know a few people that speed every time they get in their vehicle.  In our vibrant town we should take a cue from Chicago and begin adding protections because there is no instance when a car needs to use our streets as a raceway, but a raceway is what our streets are during off peak times.  Perhaps the answer is to have traffic signals that blink orange caution lights during rush hour, but which act as traffic control devices between 9AM and 4PM and from 6PM until 7AM.  This would greatly assist local residents and school children in being protected against speeding traffic.  Of course, the greatest protection against speeding traffic is a collective decision by all of us to not speed.  Such a decision would have the benefit of forcing the speeders to get into line with those of us who drive the posted limit.

          Finally, with regard to the cut-through traffic, no study has been done, but the police who write tickets on our side of town will tell you that A LOT of the tickets are going to people who do not live in Evanston and who are driving through Evanston.  We aren't even getting the benefit of them shopping here to help with the tax base.

          1. Traffic issues in south (and the rest of) Evanston

            I am not necessarily opposed to a lease, but don't know that Smylie Bros. is interested in leasing. Because of the cost of installing brewing equipment and the build-out required, I doubt they are unless it would be a long-term lease. I don't think the city should maintain long-term control over a business, but should enforce its regular oversight through policing powers. These provide protections for local residents through noise and/or zoning violations, liquor and restaurant licensing, etc.

            It is difficult to calm traffic on arterial streets, and I would argue that even Chicago has difficulty in doing so — think Western, Sheridan and Broadway. Arterial streets are supposed to keep traffic moving and to be used by traffic flowing through the city. Now the question is how to offer the best protection to pedestrians, bike riders and drivers while still allowing ease of movement about town. I don't think additional stop signs or traffic lights does that. Eventually there is a point of saturation. Stop signs become irrelevant and drivers race from light to light trying to hit them. Drivers regularly blow through the stop sign near my house. It is creating a change in habits that is required. People who drive the speed limit make everyone drive the speed limit.

            The anecdotal evidence of police issuing tickets to people who are driving through Evanston only tells half the picture. Do they work in Evanston? Where are they going and where are they coming from? Is there a more direct route to get them where they are going? It is worth investigating and should direct any planned changes.

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