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City hosts economic development ‘summit’

About 50 Evanston business and political leaders gathered this morning for what was billed as an "economic development summit" in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told the group the city needs to increase business activity both to make Evanston more livable and to improve its tax base in tough economic times.

About 50 Evanston business and political leaders gathered this morning for what was billed as an "economic development summit" in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told the group the city needs to increase business activity both to make Evanston more livable and to improve its tax base in tough economic times.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, the current chair of the city’s Economic Development Committee, said the economic crisis has lead the city to a new era of reaching out into the community with a greater emphasis on talking to business owners to find out what they need.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he’d heard that some business owners are concerned about the building height restrictions being proposed for zoning rules being developed to implement the downtown plan, and Community and Economic Development Director Lehman Walker asked property owners with such concerns to contact him directly.

Business development issues are also expected to be in play when the City Council holds a special meeting on the city’s budget on Monday, June 21, at which aldermen may discuss possible adjustments in tax levels to try to stimulate business while not making the municipal budget crunch worse.

The city currently has an unusually high tax on liquor sales, which some see as a handicap for local restaurants — especially when they seek to draw weddings, business meetings and other group events.

City officials say most other local taxes seem to be in line with those charged in nearby communities, except for the gasoline tax, which is slightly lower.

During the meeting, which only lasted about 45 minutes, business representatives suggested making information about city programs to help businesses more readily available on the city’s website and adding links on the city website pointing to the websites of local merchant associations.

And Gina Speckman, of the Chicago North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, suggested that the city should set up separate funds for business marketing activities, separate from funds for capital improvements to business districts. When groups are forced to choose, she suggested, the marketing efforts tend to get shortchanged.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the session — though brief — was an important opportunity to bring together a wide range of leaders from businesses and organizations with an interest in promoting business growth in the community.

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