In the wake of the Harley Clarke mansion fiasco, can Evanston manage to successfully sell any property for redevelopment?

That was the question posed by Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, at the Economic Development Committee meeting Wednesday night.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said staff has received inquiries from several potential developers about the city-owned parking lot at 1718 Chicago Ave. downtown, and he proposed having an open request for qualifications and request for proposals process to consider development plans.

But Burrus said that after the City Council invited proposals for the lakefront mansion and then rejected out of hand a plan to turn it into a boutique hotel after neighbors organized protests, she’d tell any developer, “Run for your life, get away from us,” because any effort to redevelop a city site “will become a nightmare.”

Burrus noted that the parking lot is flanked by landmarked buildings — the Woman’s Club of Evanston to the south and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union complex to the north.

That block of Chicago Avenue is zoned R6, which under the city code, permits a maximum building height of 85 feet.

Other aldermen on the committee sounded receptive to the idea of seeking proposals for the property, although they said they needed to agree on clear parameters for what sort of proposals the city would entertain.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said defining the project “in part is fairness to the developer. — not to ask them to go through a lengthy process only to puth the project forth and then get it scotched.

She said one issue would be whether the  city would retain ownership of the land and offer the developer a long-term lease, or sell the property outright.

“Specificity from the council is a very good thing,” Bobkiewicz said. He added that he’s heard proposals for office space, a hotel and residential mixed-use developments.

“They’re ready to go,” he said. “If the council thinks that makes sense, we could craft requests with those parameters.”

The question boils down to, he suggested: “Does the committee want to entertain ideas, or is the committee happy with a surface parking lot? 

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said a new development would need to provide at least as much parking as the existing open lot.

And she said she’d prefer office space to a residential development — after just coming off the condo “bubble.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she’d want the new development to be taxable — that a non-profit theater complex, an idea proposed in some recent studies — wouldn’t be appropriate there.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, agreed with that, saying “we’ve got ot get serious about taking care of business.”

The city manager said he’d come back to the committee at a future meeting with a more fully developed proposal for soliciting interest from developers and clarifying the type of projects the city would be interested in seeing built there.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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