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City to try again on museum

Evanston officials plan to try again to find a group to turn a vacant west side building into an African-American history museum.

The city reclaimed the building at 1817 Church St. nearly a year ago from the Evanston Westside Citizens District Council. That group, after six years of trying, had failed to complete work to fix up the building and open it as a museum — work that it had originally pledged to do in six months.

Instead the work dragged on for years, ultimately costing nearly $200,000 in federal grant funds by the time the city finally pulled the plug.

The city had handed the building over to the group for $1, but retained the right to reclaim it if the museum project wasn’t completed.

The city’s Community Development Block Grant administrator, Sarah Flax, said today she’s preparing a new request for proposals for the site, although she said the she’s not certain how soon the RFP will be completed.

She said the process is complicated because the city has taken time to meet with leaders of other small ethnic museums and cultural centers around the metro area to try to determine how they’ve accomplished their goals and the resources they’ve needed to do that.

The research is designed to try to assure that any new buyer of the building would be better prepared to actually get the museum up and running.

City officials say that while the district council group was enthusiastic, it never succeeded in raising the funds needed to operate a museum at the site. The city says the group also failed to meet building code requirements in the rehab work it did do.

If the effort to find a new group to carry out the museum project fails, the city could ultimately sell the building for some other purpose. But Flax says that would require approval from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, which provided the funds spent on the original project.

If the ultimate use of the building doesn’t meet the objectives of the CDBG program, which include improving neighborhood conditions for low and moderate income residents, then, Flax said, proceeds of the sale would need to be used to repay the local CDBG program for the money already spent on the rehab work.

The three-story building has about 4,000 square feet of space.

Related stories

City reclaims museum building (Oct. 23, 2007)

Museum project on the ropes (Oct. 9, 2007)

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