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Civic Center referendum proposed

The activist group Friends of the Civic Center is planning a petition drive to put an advisory referendum on the April ballot that would let voters say whether they want Evanston's city government to stay put.

The activist group Friends of the Civic Center is planning a petition drive to put an advisory referendum on the April ballot that would let voters say whether they want Evanston's city government to stay put.

Friends leader John Kennedy says that to get the issue on the ballot the group will have to collect about 3,000 petition signatures before the end of January.

The group has long urged aldermen to fix up the current building, located in the former Marywood Academy at 2100 Ridge Ave.

The aldermen have been holding secret discussions for over a year about possible new locations for a Civic Center.

They reportedly have considered buying a parking lot just north of the Maple Avenue garage downtown as a site for the new building. But the current owner, Northwestern University, has indicated it's not interested in selling, and court action to acquire the property by eminent domain could take several years.

Mr. Kennedy, of 1119 Hinman Ave., says constructions costs have risen 30 percent in the past two years and the market for new condominiums has softened.

Both changes, he claims, have thrown into doubt projections by the city's real estate consultant that the existing site could be sold to a housing developer for $20 million, and that the proceeds would be enough to buy land for and construct a replacement.

Meanwhile, he says, the city continues to postpone maintenance work on the nearly century-old building. The roof continues to leak, and floors are being patched with duct tape.

The friends group has argued that restoring the building would be far less expensive than building a new Civic Center — a claim the aldermen dispute.

City government has been headquartered in the existing building since the 1970s.

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