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City staff sees new economic development strategy

COVID-19 may prompt some changes in Evanston's economic development strategy.

An aerial view of downtown Evanston from Google Maps.

Evanston aldermen are scheduled to discuss tonight a city staff proposal to respond to the COVID-19 crisis with a new economic development strategy.

The plan, detailed in a memo from Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak, urges that city offices be moved downtown to generate more customers for local restaurants and shops.

It also recommends that the city sell some city-owned property, presumably including the existing Civic Center, to generate cash, reduce expenses, expand the property tax base and consolidate city operations.

The memo also calls for creating new requirements to dress up vacant storefronts and to provide semi-permanent winter dining options like domes or greenhouses.

And it suggests the city should:

  • Reorganize programs to concentrate economic development efforts to focus on residents most in need.
  • Streamline building and zoning regulations and speed up the permit review process to help keep contractors working.
  • Create a new Northwest Evanston tax increment financing district and expand the existing West Evanston TIF district.
  • Develop a new comprehensive plan and a public private partnership that would work toward equitable economic prosperity.
  • Establish an infrastructure improvement program for projects that could range from replacing broken sidewalks to installing solar arrays.
  • Implement a technical assistance program for small businesses to enhance their e-commerce strategies.

Zalmezak says he anticipates it will be 2022 before downtown office buildings return to full occupancy and the city’s initiatives to respond to the panedemic will require a two- to three-year outlook to have a major impact.

“We cannot depend on residents alone to cover the cost of city services,” Zalmezak says in the memo, and the city can help make the community stronger for all Evanstonians in the long term “by proactively making these difficult decisions in the short term.”

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