Evanston would have to put up 40 percent of the estimated $8.4 million cost of a new mixed use commercial and residential development on the northwest corner of Howard Street and Chicago Avenue under a proposal presented to the Economic Development Committee Wednesday night.

But it would bring what’s billed as “the nation’s first education-based home and garden lifestyle center” to the property along with 30 rental apartments in a seven-story building — with 10 of those units reserved as affordable housing.

130 Chicago Ave.

It also would replace the existing eyesore of a shuttered auto repair repair business on the site and provide for cleanup of environmental issues — including four abandoned gasoline storage tanks believed to be located under a city parking lot at the south end of the block.

The proposal is described as a collaborative effort between LaManda Joy, founder of the Chicago non-profit Peterson Garden Project, and David Brown, president of Harrington Brown LLC.

A preliminary rendering of the building, looking north along Clark Street in Chicago.

Joy says the organic garden center would be a for-profit social enterprise with open space for plants. Enclosed classrooms, food and retail space would be on the ground floor of the planned seven-story building to be constructed on what’s now the city parking lot.

A site plan for the development, with the Howard-Chicago intersection in the lower-left corner.

A surface parking lot north of the building would have parking for 37 cars, with 23 of the spaces controlled and metered by the city and available for retail customers.

Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the site, called it “by far the ugliest corner in the entire city” and said the project would be “an absolute savior” for the area.

“Other neighborhoods are having problems accepting affordable housing,” Rainey said. “This will show them that it can be done, that it can be made acceptable and that we can combine affordable housing with other uses.”

She said the new elevator building would be excellent for seniors and would provide for convenient shopping, “with the Jewel a half block away, Marshalls right down the street, a health club, you can walk to the train. It will make this corner look like it belongs in Evanston.”

Committee member Mary Beth Berns said she’d like to see an even bigger development at the site.

David Brown.

But developer David Brown said the project as he’d originally proposed it to the city had been considerably smaller and that growing it beyond the current height wouldn’t improve the bottom line numbers.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said she loved “every component of this project — the social enterprise, the edible gardens, the affordable housing.”

But Rue Simmons expressed concern about the size of the financial commintment being requested of the city.

As described in a staff memo presented to the committee, the city’s share of the project funding would be composed of $1.86 million from the Howard Ridge tax increment financing district, $500,000 from the economic development fund, $1.2 million from the affordable housing fund, a $20,000 sales tax rebate and the city selling the parking lot land for $1.

But Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said he hoped to avoid having to tap the economic development fund, which now contributes to the city’s general fund balance that is closely watched by rating agencies, and instead borrow against future TIF district revenue for that portion of the subsidy.

With the developer facing an Aug. 1 deadline to close on purchase of the abandoned auto repair business property, the committee voted to sent the project to the full City Council for its review on July 10.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. The Rendering
    I hope the building looks better than that ! The Rendering looked like a boarded-up building after a fire.
    Any support that the world is looking for “the nation’s first education-based home and garden lifestyle center” or just someone’s idea of what “somebody” must want ?
    Again another way to spend taxpayer money where if the need really existed, some business person would have bought it already.

    1. I think we can count on

      I think we can count on the building looking better than that rendering. It seems the decision to increase from a five to a seven story building was made just within the last few days and the rendering is just a stetch that gives a rough idea of how tall the building would be against the sky as you approach it from the south.

      The project is bigger than 20,000 square feet, so I believe it will have to go through the city’s usual planned development review process — which will require much more polished drawings, among other things.

      — Bill 

  2. New surplus?

    What a surprise!  I had no idea we had a $4.5 million surplus to spend on feel good projects!  I would suggest that those members who don’t like the appearance of the corner take a lesson from the corner in the 6th ward that was just as unsightly until it was seeded over with grass and now I heard it may become a bank drive through.  If you really want a feel good project perhaps you should think about lowering our property taxes or garbage fees.  Now that would really benefit the citizens.

    1. The bank pulled out, but fast food is coming in

      You are apparently referring to the corner of Crawford Avenue and Gross Point Road, where a gas station once stood.

      When the station closed in 2011, Chase Bank applied to construct a bank drive-through branch there, but neighbors objected to its plans to access an adjacent piece of property to provide more parking. Unable to gain approval, the bank pulled out in 2013 and that’s when the property was grassed over. 

      New plans are for an organic hamburger chain to establish a drive-through there.

  3. Vote da bums out!

    This is crazy. Our elected officials are actually considering kicking in $3.36 million for a RENTAL building that will have 30 percent affordable housing on Howard Street? This project would likely become ghettoized in no time. Our government, local, county, state and federal, are doling out rent vouchers like candy. Meanwhile, us hardworking stiffs pay more and more property and income taxes every year. Who’s looking out for us? Vote da bums out!

    1. It’s so obviously ridiculous.
      It’s so obviously ridiculous. Public money for a private enterprise. And it’s certain somebody’s nest is getting feathered. Considering this, it’s certain to go through with little debate. And so convenient to Juneway Terrace!

  4. No private lender will fund

    No private lender will fund this deal.  The lender for 415 Howard next door lost $30+ million.  That  17 story, 221 unit, apartment building, called the Howard Street Station then Skyline of Evanston & now 415 Premier Apartments, cost $260k/unit to build in 2008 and sold for $130/unit in a 2010 foreclosure.
    Also, this 221 unit building paid $562k in property taxes in 2015, much of which goes into a TIF.  The TIF money, instead of going to the schools, has become Anne Rainey’s piggy bank for pet projects.  I’d like to know how many kids living at 415 Howard attend Evanston schools as guests of Evanston taxpayers, because their building makes no contribution to the school districts.

    1. No more rentals!

       But why does the city keep putting money into these projects ???

      rental buildings don’t help Evanston at all!  They only benefit the developer who flips it to a REIT. The rentals we have aren’t even at at capacity. One day we will have hundres of vacant rental units  and the developers will be long gone.  


      1. Chicago Avenue Gateway project

        Using the affordable housing fund as well as taxpayer monies for such a project is incomprehensible when so much “affordable housing for seniors” is what is needed in Evanston. Why keep building such buildings that do nothing to privide for our long-time residents in need of affordable homes in Evanston. I was hoping that this “new member” City Council and Mayor would be more in tune with the needs of their constituents and really fight to include affordable housing for seniors!   Come on, we can do better than this!

    2. TIF money
      It’s not the building residents’ or the owner’s fault that TIF money doesn’t go to the schools.

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