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Civic Center suit hearing Wednesday

A hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in a lawsuit filed by residents who want to renovate Evanston's Civic Center seeking to bump from the ballot a referendum question that asks whether voters want to spend $31 million to do the job.

A hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in a lawsuit filed by residents who want to renovate Evanston's Civic Center seeking to bump from the ballot a referendum question that asks whether voters want to spend $31 million to do the job.

The Friends of the Civic Center collected petition signatures to place a competing renovation referendum on the ballot — one that does not specify a price tag for the job.

In response Evanston aldermen authorized the ballot question with the price tag — even though they've since conceded that renovations might be carried out for substantially less money than the figure they hastily grabbed from a consultant's report.

John Kennedy, an organizer of the Friends group, said group members filed suit after the aldermen rebuffed efforts to reach agreement on a price tag for renovations, which the Friends have estimated could be done for between $7 million and $13 million.

He said the city council's ballot question was designed to create confusion among the voters and muddy the meaning of any outcome.

"We're going to force them to back up the $31 million figure they used," Mr. Kennedy said.

Aldermen have said that even $13 million would be more than the city's entire annual capital improvement budget, but Mr. Kennedy suggested that the city could issue bonds and finance the cost over 30 years, reducing the annual payments to a manageable amount.

The aldermen have proposed selling the Civic Center to a real estate developer who would renovate the building as condominiums and build additional homes on the site.

They've argued that by creating a tax increment financing district for the property the sale price of the land plus the new property tax revenue captured from the residential uses could finance the cost of a new civic center building.

But Mr. Kennedy said construction costs for new city halls in Chicago area communities in recent years have run between $350 and $400 per square foot, which he asserts would be much more expensive than a renovation project.

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