Evanston’s Economic Development Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to spend up to $100,000 of city funds to clean up the site of a planned Gordon Food Services store on Oakton Street.

The site, which previously housed a steel plant after an earlier life as a quarry from which clay for bricks was mined, is considered a brownfield — a property contaminated with hazardous substances.

Gordon real estate manager Bill Casey told the committee that  the cleanup required at the site is now estimated to cost $300,000 — or about ten times what he says the company generally spends on site cleanup for one of its stores.

He said the company has a tentative agreement with the current owner of the property to pay a third of the cost, and that GFS is prepared to cover another $100,000.

City staff had recommended that the city contribute $40,000 toward the cleanup, but the committee voted to increase the city contribution to $100,000 at the recommendation of Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the site at 2424 Oakton St.

Casey said that the soil condition at the site is very poor — unable to support the store building — and it will require having piers drilled about 30 feet into the ground to provide a proper foundation.

In addition, he said monitoring wells GFS installed have found groundwater contamination with lead, aarsenic and acetones.

The company is planning to have five more monitoring wells added to the site starting today to try to track down the extent of other possible contamination on the property.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said all the problems at the site were a result of prior uses there, by companies now long out of business that couldn’t be made to pay for a cleanup.

So, she said, the site would be difficult to be turned into a productive use now without some city contribution to the cleanup cost to attract a potential developer.

Casey said that GFS first expanded into the Chicago area about 10 years ago, but located all its area stores to the south of city because its closest distribution center was in Grand Rapids, Mich.

He said that the firm recently opened a distribution center in Kenosha, Wis., and now expanding in Chicago’s northern suburbs — with a store opened in Schaumburg in March and another scheduled to open in Niles in October.

The proposed Evanston store would become its third north-suburban location.

GFS, which has its roots as a food service distributor to the restaurant industry, builds retail stores averaging 16,000 square feet that focus on providing bulk quantities of meats and staples, carrying an inventory of about 3,000 products.

He said the stores typically appeal to caterers, owners of small restaurants and people stocking up for parties.

The EDC vote requires approval of the full City Council to take effect, but with a majority of aldermen on the commitee, the full council’s approval is likely.

Top: A crew working to set up new monitoring wells at the Oakton Street site this morning.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Another give away !

    "City staff had recommended that the city contribute $40,000 toward the cleanup, but the committee voted to increase the city contribution to $100,000 at the recommendation of Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the site at 2424 Oakton St."


    Is it not nice that the aldermen voted to increase even what was proposed.   Of course it is taxpayers money so the Council has no problem giving it away.  The site is in Rainey's ward and of course the rest of the Council would go along—what is it they say about lawyers [and sharks] and professional courtesy.


    You would have expected the liberal anti-business Council to require the current owner to pay for the cleanup since they caused it [Coase's law as anyone who has taken economics would know] just as  the EPA goes after the causers of pollution instead of saying it is the taxpayer's responsibility.

    I'm sure the Council assumes they will get the votes of the food store owners and the contractors who do the job—-and that the residents are just too dumb to see the give away and vote against them for giving their money away.

  2. Giveaway? What nonsense.

    This is not a giveaway, it is the only intelligent move to make.  The EPA has spent millions, no billions, of taxpayer dollars for cleanups of every nature, brownfields included.  The attempt to get the initial polluter to pay hardly ever works and polluted land can sit  there unused for decades upon decades, exactly like this field has sat empty for decades.

    Lets do some simple math.  The city today will give out 100K to clean up a 300K problem.  Good leverage there already.   Gordon foods will build a 16K sf facility.  That means the city (and our school districts) will start to collect property taxes from day one.  And those taxes are commercial property taxes, assessed at twice the value of residential.  A quick back of the envelope estimate and the city will recoup their 100K INVESTMENT within 3-4 years time at the very most, and the school districts simply collect cash from day one.  You figure out that rate of return for both the city and the school districts. 

    In 3-4 years the city now starts earning a revenue stream with basically no cost expenditures.  We're talking millions of dollars in returns for a lousy 100K investment.  Wish I could get that type of stable long term return in my investments.

    That's not even mentioning the sales taxes generated both locally and to the state, the generation of jobs and their millions of dollars in payroll to local citizens, and the savings all the local residents can reap because of good old capitalist competition keeping prices down. 

    A 100K giveaway?  Thats seriously flawed thinking.  Bravo Ann Rainey, Bravo EDC, make this happen. 


    1. Simple—Reduce Sale Price by Clean-up Amount

      As part of the sale of the property, the owners should be required to clean-up the land before the sale or reduce the price of the sale equal to the clean-up amount.   I assume the owners want to sell the land and 'something' is better than nothing.  If the owners are not known, then the city can turn it over to the buyer which should compensate them for the clean-up cost.  As much as I hate the use made of it, if all else fails and the owners are not known or won't bring the property to standard, eminent domain can be used and the net proceeds after cleanup go to the current owner.

      The Council probably just feels it is easier on them to lay costs on the taxpayer than to do their duty to protect the residents.

      Taxpayers should not be on the hook for the clean-up. 

      1. Simpler

        Probably not legal, certainly not realistic, possibly leaves the City with cost well beyond 100K,  And we probably end up with a polluted vacant field for another decade or 2 or 3. 

        Bottom line, City would save 100K today but over the years the City and the School Districts both miss out on millions of dollars in revenue and fail to generate any jobs for local residents.  New commercial construction of that size will generate back to the city and school districts most if not all of that 100K each and every year in R.E. taxes alone.

        IMO, not a smart tradeoff in any way, shape or form.  Penny wise, pound foolish, it's simple math.  I'm glad the Economic Development Committee and the Council members understand that.  As a long time taxpayer, both residential and commercial, thats the kind of hook I have no problem getting snared with.


  3. Votes?

    I'm sure the council members do not expect to get votes from residents of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    While the site has not been vacant for "decades," it's certain vacant now and not going to change without someone paying for the cleanup. Just think what this would cost should the city decide to make it a park instead–study it for $500,000, buy the land, clean it up for $300K, landscape it for another 1 millio, and get zero tax dollars!

    I hate to see the money go, but this, for once, is not just a giveaway with no chance for return. (Nor a giveaway that could have been skipped because the threat of no development without support is very real.)

    GFS is effectively saying they are willing to spend 3.5 times what they usually do to put a store in Evanston (instead of in Skokie for a change), but not 10 times. Go for it!

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