City Manager Luke Stowe wants the city to spend $125,000 on a project to identify how to better utilize city-owned real estate.

The “Putting Assets to Work Incubator” is a project of the Government Finance Officers Association that maps government-owned property and assesses how it could be used to generate public revenue for community investment.

Stowe says the study might help the city figure out ways to fund decarbonization projects, like expanding electric vehicle charging options, and to help meet its housing affordability goals.

The City of Atlanta, Georgia, went through the program last year and a GFOA report indicates that — among other things — the program concluded that a vacant 19-acre Civic Center site there could be “revitalized with 1,300 new housing units, more than 500 of which will be affordable, as well as grocery, retail, a new school, and a revitalized civic center auditorium.”

The Atlanta Civic Center site. Credit: Google

The report says the site will continue to generate lease revenue for the city’s affordable housing initiatives through a 99-year ground lease as well as new property tax revenue.

Evanston has been struggling for decades to decide what to do with its nine-acre Civic Center property.

In December 2019 Evanston spent $129,000 to hire the real estate consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle to conduct a phase one study exploring potential new uses for city properties.

In April 2020 the firm presented a report that, among other things, suggested that the city explore selling the Church Street parking garage.

It also noted that the Civic Center has nearly 115,000 square feet of space to house just over 160 employees — more than triple the space per employee that’s now typical for office buildings.

But at that time city staff recommended not moving ahead with phase two of the project with JLL, suggesting that staff members might be able to do some of the work internally.

In a memo to council members, Stowe says the city’s facilities unit maintains about 60 buildings, the parking division has four garages and 35 surface lots, and the parks department has over 300 acres of land on 97 sites.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Can someone find the study done by Mayor Tisdale over a decade ago? Please make that available to the city.

    That mayor and council saw the financial problems coming, tried to head it off by exploring monetizing city assets- buildings, and getting the city out of the no-win posture of being a landlord to private enterprise.

    The mayor and council were met by the full gale force of Evanstonians being Evanstonians – virtue signalers, class warriors, sincere – but nevertheless self-righteous ignorance over deep fact checking.

    Baby seal beaters may have behaved better. but I digress.

    At that time a sole entity responded to the RFP requested to deal with the Harley Clark mansion.

    That entity spent hundred of thousands of dollars on a comprehensive study that when complete would be the birth of a world-class hospitality destination on Lake Michigan.


    The fact was beach access would be improved with finally providing adequate secure parking, and access to amenities fitting the beaches of Hawaii. Services were to be provided, not by a group of volunteer do-gooders relying on contributions, but through a for-profit organization, experienced in hospitality and with very deep pockets to sustain the enterprise.

    Jobs would be created, tax dollars would roll in – including sales tax, hospitality tax, and very, very significant real estate tax.

    The mayor city council and the entity who made the proposal were all vilified.

    Evanston obligatory flak including ethics and conflict of issue warriors emerged – brought out their full arsenal of weapons, and did their thing to ensure that this project would not go forward.

    The single Harley Clark proposal received by the city, was rejected out of hand by people who simply did not have the facts or chose to spin them to their world view.

    The entity that made that proposal was a billionaire who has long since walked away from this good city who could have aspired to greatness but chose another path.

    Best of wishes to all who remain.

  2. The entire Civic Center parcel was included in the 5th Ward TIF so it would literally be decades before the City at large sees any benefit from that.

    1. … perhaps true — but only if you think incremental property tax revenue is the sole benefit to the city at large from development.
      But from a broader perspective it’s like saying there was no benefit to “the city at large” from the Sherman Plaza or Church Street Plaza developments downtown, which were done in TIF districts, or no benefit from the revival of the Evanston Plaza shopping center, also in a TIF district.
      And what’s wrong with seeing improvements that benefit the 5th Ward?
      — Bill

  3. Seems to me, that we keep spending a lot for studies and we keep running around in circles with no improvement.How are we going to pay for the issues we have now such as infrastructure collapsing?

  4. There is so much “retired” talent and intelligence in Evanston. The city may want to consider finding a leader within their ranks, who would sponsor the due diligence of this effort along with local talent to further the study. Students studing urban planning and design would find this to be an interesting and beneficial internship. I for one would volunteer on such a meaningful endeavor.

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