Site for new Rebuilding Exchange training center (Google Photos).

The veteran executive of the world of non-profits said it was “the biggest ask ever” in her 20 years in the field.

Aina Gutierrez, director of the Rebuilding Exchange, asked the city’s Economic Development Committee on Wednesday night to endorse a $2 million grant, so the agency could buy a warehouse at 626 Hartrey Ave.

The new space would let Rebuilding Exchange significantly expand its job training program for construction trades, which currently graduates about 80 people per year into living wage positions.

“Our vision,” Gutierrez said, “is to get more people out of poverty.”

Rebuilding Exchange, a non-profit, currently has a much smaller building, also on Hartrey, where it sells reclaimed building materials and holds job training classes.

But while everyone on the committee, which includes five members of City Council, said the job training program is terrific, there was concern that $2 million would eat up too much of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds, making it harder to do other projects.

Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) said she was “uncomfortable with the price tag.”

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), the EDC chair, said, “I’m looking for a way to get to yes, but I’m stumbling on the magnitude of the ask.”

In the end, the committee recommended up to $1.2 million to help Rebuilding Exchange acquire the building. The organization would then have to raise more private or foundation money to fill in the gap.

It’s unclear if any conditions will be attached to the city’s grant. Ald. Devon Reid (8th) suggested having the city buy the building, then work out some sort of lease-to-own plan with the Exchange. That way, Reid said, the city might end up making some money.

The issue goes to City Council next month, and it appears Council will approve some level of support. Five of the nine council members are on the Economic Development Committee, and they all voted yes.

A smaller ‘big ask’

There was actually another “big ask” on the economic panel’s agenda, although not as big as the other one.

And this smaller big ask was recommended for full Council’s approval.

Beef brisket in an image from the Soul & Smoke website.

In this case, the development committee agreed with a $650,000 request from Soul & Smoke Restaurant, 1601 Payne St., to expand their building from a take-out facility into a full-scale, sit-down restaurant.

The phrase “big ask” was used by a restaurant representative.

But this big ask comes with a potentially big repayment to the city’s coffers.

The restaurant representative said expansion could add $250,000 a year in sales taxes, as well as more employees.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager, said, “We make the assumption that the project won’t move forward without this investment.”

Unlike the Rebuilding Exchange, money for Soul & Smoke does not come from ARPA dollars, but rather from the tax increment financing district that includes the restaurant site.

The Soul & Smoke recommendation also goes to City Council for a final vote.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Evanston already has a very large private not-for-profit educational institution that is occasionally criticized because it does not pay property tax. The total cost of supporting Rebuilding Exchange would be the grant plus whatever tax the city would collect if the building or land were put to use by a for-profit enterprise.

    I have had food from Soul & Smoke, and it is excellent. They have been written up in the Tribune, and Evanston should be proud to the the home of a business that has done so well focusing on quality. However, if it makes financial sense to invest in their expansion, they why are the owners not making that investment on their own? Why should the city provide a grant? There are other big ambitions the city has for that neighborhood which could use that funding (

    1. I agree Soul & Smoke is excellent while still questioning the need. The chef/owner is a great entrepreneur/business person who has two more locations in the city – Timeout Market in Fulton Market and recently opened Rockwell by the River. On top of the food truck. He comes from the world of fine dining but passion has always been barbeque.

      Having said that, the TIF is directly meant for economic development of that area so it seems to adhere to that and I have confidence in Mr. Carter’s ability to actually use the funds in a positive way instead of wasting it like we saw with the Chicken and Waffle restaurant debacle. He also gives back to the community in various ways (board of non profit to teach culinary arts, has a community pantry fridge, etc.).

      So, should he not get funds simply because he already has a successful enterprise? Reasonable minds can differ. If Soul & Smoke was in downtown Evanston, they wouldn’t consider it, but because it’s been a pillar of the fifth ward and part of the TIF, they probably will give it.

      Regardless, I wish the restaurant and business much success.

      I thought Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse fairly recently moved locations so wonder why they’re looking to move again. I have visited/purchased items from there before, but agree that that is an even different calculus if it takes a new building off the tax rolls. I love that Evanston wants to help various non profits, but we need to be selective/logical about appropriately allocating limited funding aligned to goals. I don’t have a strong opinion on the dollar amount/alignment here as I don’t have enough information.

  2. I guess the pantry is a little bare now. Too bad they didn’t come forward earlier when it seemed we didn’t say no to many requests for these funds. Ironic that just two days after City Council talked about finding real ways to support climate resilience they pushback on a request from an organization that would have contributed greatly to that effort by deconstructing homes rather than demolishing them, salvaging and reusing the materials, selling higher-quality materials at more affordable rates etc… efforts like the rebuilding exchange are the future and will greatly reduce the amount of building materials that go to a landfill as well as the need to produce and harvest new raw materials… I don’t get it

  3. We gave Northlight $2 million to construct another new theater here: in competition with Northwestern’s theaters and also smaller ones. Northlight is currently in Skokie at Skokie Blvd and Gulf Rd. They offer free parking in a covered garage next to the theater building. Granted, their main theater needs a stage w/a part that can be raised and lowered, but it seems about the right size for their audiences. They also have several other theaters that are larger where ballet and other events are held. Frankly, the expense of parking, a hassle with either having to have an ap or climb over snow banks or go further to a parking garage, even with a matinee performance, prevents me from considering renewing my long-time series tickets once they move to downtown Evanston. I’d much rather see $2million dollars go to a training facility that is so needed for rehabs that take place all around us. Or even to help make up our pension deficits.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *