Does Evanston have $50 million to $100 million to spare? If so, there are several ways the city could have a nifty new or newly-renovated Civic Center.

That’s the bottom line of the report from a consortium of city consulting firms released last week.

The report concludes that the least expensive option, at $48.1 million, is to build a new civic center on a new site downtown. That solution narrowly edged out the option of a phased gut-rehab of the existing building, at a cost of $50.6 million.

But to reach that conclusion the study assumes no cost for parking at the downtown site — effectively “borrowing” 405 spaces of parking capacity from existing downtown garages. The report estimates that including an on-site garage at the new building site would add $18.5 million to the cost.

The report also appears to inflate the cost of the phased rehab by several million, by assuming no portion of the existing site would be sold off for housing.

On the other hand, the phased rehab proposal includes no addition to the existing 215-car surface parking lot at the Civic Center.

The phased rehab plan also would not increase the size of the Civic Center beyond its current 112,000 square feet. City officials claim they need 130,000 square feet, the size of the proposed new building, to fully meet needs for housing city staff and providing public meeting space.

But if the city were to build downtown on property it already owns — for example, the parking lot fronting Chicago Avenue just north of Church Street — it could avoid a $7.5 million estimated site acquisition cost — cutting the total cost to just under $41 million.

The new construction figures assume the city manages to recover $23.3 million from selling off the existing Civic Center site for housing development and establishing a tax increment financing district to capture property tax revenue from the new homes to be built there.

The study also looked at several more expensive options, including building additions and garages onto a renovated existing civic center building, renovating the building all at once, and constructing a new civic center, complete with fully underground parking on the existing site.

The all-underground parking model more than doubled the cost of providing parking on site.

The problem, of course, is that, as Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said last week, “We have no money.”

The city, faced with a $140 million unfunded pension liability for its public safety employees, and substantial bond indebtedness for existing capital improvement projects, had to cut spending and raise the property tax levy over 7 percent this year.

The consultants’ report did not address piecemeal solutions proposed by some citizens groups, such as repairing the Civic Center’s leaking roof, but leaving more extensive renovation of the building for another day.

Related links

The full consultants’ report  (17MB)

Other Civic Center reports

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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