1620 Central St.

National Louis University plans to buy an office building on Evanston’s Central Street and turn it into a dormitory and training center for disabled young adults.

1620 Central St.
1620 Central St.

School representatives presented plans for the project to the city’s Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee Wednesday.

The proposal, to house about 50 students and six live-in advisors in the Georgian-style 1950s-vintage building, would require rezoning the site at 1620 Central St., across from Mustard’s Last Stand.

City officials at the meeting seemed generally receptive to the plan, although Community Development Director James Wolinski, noting that once it’s owned by the university the property could be removed from the tax rolls, suggested the city might demand a payment-in-lieu of taxes in return for granting the zoning change.

The building’s current owner, Evanston-based developer Bob Horner, paid nearly $96,000 in property taxes on it this year.National Louis recently sold its former campus that spanned the border between Evanston and Wilmette. It’s now being redeveloped for housing. The school has moved most of its operations to office buildings in various suburbs with convenient freeway access for commuting students.

The school’s vice president of operations, Bill Roberts, said the 20-year-old Professional Assistant Center for Education program attracts young people with multiple learning disabilities from across the North Shore and occasionally from out of state.

He said it helps them prepare for productive jobs in society and life independent from their families, and that most graduates of the program end up living in Evanston or Skokie because of the relatively good access to public transportation.

Because of their disabilities, the students generally are not licensed to drive, and the program does not allow them to bring vehicles to the program site, Roberts said.

In addition to the six live-in staff members, Roberts said another half-dozen instructors and other staff would be present during the day. The property has a 36-space parking lot behind the building.

Project architect Matt Hichens said the school’s plans call for very little change to the building’s exterior, other than replacing the old single-pane windows and adding an elevator.

But he said the interior will need a gut-rehab job to turn the office building into residential and classroom space for the program.

Zoning Administrator Bill Dunkley said he understands that 7th Ward Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl favors the project and that he has not heard objections to it from community residents.

He said that as part of the rezoning process now underway for the Central Street corridor the sub-area that includes the parcel could be designed to allow dormitories as a special use.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Central Street Dormitory
    Evanston has many places for low income, ill, mentally ill, and drug addicted people. Evanston does not need anymore establishments of this kind. All these developments seriously drop property values. You can no longer walk in the areas of Main-Chicago, Main-Ridge, or Chicago-Greenwood without coming into contact with a person with a problem. I once had a person throw a large branch across Sheridan Road on a Summer afternoon into my front yard. I personally think Evanston needs to act more like Wilmette or Winnetka and not allow the development of this kind.

    1. NIMBY
      I can’t believe this comment.

      First, I’m really glad that Evanston is the type of community that cares about its disadvantaged population and works hard to find housing and programs for people in various kinds of need. Second, this is a COLLEGE that is setting up a dormitory for its STUDENTS – this isn’t a halfway house or rehab facility or anything. This is for young adults who are trying to find a way to support themselves and live on their own.

      I live close to a number of the residential facilities the commenter refers to. Yes, some people talk to themselves or look a little disheveled, but they’re not causing any harm. Instead of being scared of people who aren’t as fortunate as you are, try seeing them as people who could use a hand in life. Make eye contact and say Hello as you walk by and treat them with the same respect you (hopefully) would treat anyone else. Or just move to Wilmette.

    2. oh my
      Wow. This is the reason we DON’T live in Wilmette or Winnetka … simply put mean, close-minded people. As the parent of a child who will (hopefully) someday qualify for a program like the one National Louis offers, I can tell you that there are NOT enough places for disabled young adults in our – or any – community to live, work and generally be accepted into the community.

      Furthermore, as someone who frequently walks in the neighborhoods you mention above I would like to remind you that you can not walk anywhere without coming into contact with “a person with a problem” … you may just not be able to immediately see their problems.

      Finally, I would argue that housing for the disabled and mental ill in our community has NOT had any impact on property values. Do you have evidence otherwise? Most people chose to live in Evanston because they embrace the diversity our community has to offer. Otherwise they move their you-know-whats up north. May I recommend a good realtor to you?

  2. Normal and abnormal geeks and everyone else.
    Evanston has lots of benign, medicated outpatient types, like those who live in the building at Greenwood and Chicago and the one at Main and Maple.

    But due to our university town setting, there are an equal number of intellectual geek types walking and driving our streets as well.

    In many cases, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two groups. And their mutual presence (along with the mostly tolerant regular type residents) is what makes our city unique.

    Almost anyone–even staunch Republicans–can find their niche in our town, and I think that’s great.

  3. AMEN!
    I too have lived near Albany Care, Greenwood Care, and other facilities in town. There is NO NEED for fear, and bigotry does not help individuals with differences integrate into society. Contact with others does. I am PROUD to live in Evanston, where my disabilities are not cause for shame, where not everyone lives like I do, thinks like I do, or looks like I do. If the first comment posted is meant seriously, then I hope the poster will seriously consider subsequent suggestions that s/he move further north, where s/he will feel more insulated and hopefully be less likely to lash out at the rest of us. I feel that the proposal to convert this office building to such a facility that will add to the participation of even more residents to our society is positive, laudable and worth everyone’s while. Amen, I say, and again AMEN!

  4. I don’t think I have ever
    I don’t think I have ever seen such a mean-spirited comment on this site as that posted by the individual who opposes the development on Central Street. In my view, person is more to be pitied than the unfortunate individuals with whom he/she is so loath to come into contact. What a small, limited, ungenerous worldview with which to go through life. Although I feel sorry for you, I join the other people who have responded to your post in urging you to move out of Evanston–perhaps to Disney World.

    1. The Inferno

      Ms. Rakley,

      You are generous and sensitive. I believe you possess admirable qualities that make good community and citizenry. Evanston needs more valuable perspectives to come out of the darkness and step into the light.

      Unlike you, I do not feel sorry for the Central Street Dorm writer for revealing its true nature. Its comment serves as a reminder the mindset live among us: Bigotry, prejudice, as well as racism thrive – – even in the beauty that is Evanston. There are communities we all “fit in” and places we belong. And there’s a community for their kind too.

      The Inferno.

      I’ve read many mean-spirited posts besides having been a target of them. The Anonymous seem to write from their subconsciouses and reserve the liberty to express any piece of unsubstantiated crap they stumble upon while remaining concealed and invisible. Not always, but sometimes the Anonymous’ perspective come to us cowarding; hooded and cloaked in white sheets intent to cause harm.

      The Central Street Dormitory commentary is case and point.

      While I LOVE EVANSTON and its diverse demographics, beauty and blemishes, please let’s not suggest the type move to Disney World.

      They’ll frighten the children.

  5. All residents deserve the tranquility Evanston offers
    Last year, I purchased a home next door to one of the mental health facilities mentioned above, and honestly I was uncomfortable at first because I didn’t know the severity of issues the patients struggled with. My ignorance soon dissolved, and now I feel lucky to live in such a diverse community, one that welcomes people of all backgrounds. And, I feel even luckier because every morning as I head for work, I’m greeted by people who make an effort to smile and say “Good morning!” This is a common courtesy and expression of friendliness that most self-proclaimed “normal” people don’t bother to do. I’m glad Evanston offers our neighbors a peaceful, beautiful neighborhood they deserve.

  6. Let’s not be so harsh
    Please consider another opinion, in addition to the critical comments about the school’s new Central Street dorm, as well as those who have taken to disagreeing vehemently with that person’s posting.

    While visiting the Main Street shopping area, I was, unfortunately, mercilessly harassed by one of the residents of the nearby facility. (I learned that when I called the police later about the incident.)

    More upsetting, this incident happened while I had my young child walking with me. The man followed us very closely, repeatedly muttering and shouting to us. He continued to follow us, even when I stopped to look in a store window (hoping that he would pass), changed directions (hoping again that he would continue on his way) and crossed the street specifically to avoid an encounter. This all took place over almost 10 minutes.

    After those 10 long minutes, I tried to take refuge in my car with my child. But this man stood next to my car, pounding on the window with an odd smile on his face and waving. It was, to say the least, extremely disconcerting and somewhat scary.

    My child was very upset by the ordeal and does not like returning to the area. He repeatedly asks me if that man is going to bother us again. I have explained that the man faces challenges that we don’t have and he has difficulty interacting with others. But my son is still concerned about our safety in that area. I can’t blame him because I felt very intimidated by this person’s behavior. I don’t know if he would have become violent if we had remained on the street.

    As an aside, lest anyone assume that I am just unusually sensitive…I have lived in large cities for more than 20 years. I am accustomed to walking in urban areas. I have volunteered in a homeless shelter so I am not easily offended or scared by anyone on a city street. A few years ago, I volunteered in a prison.

    Openness is a wonderful thing. I welcome everyone to this community. But the Main Street shopping area was certainly not welcoming to my son or me that day.

    I am posting anonymously because I fear that I will be called some horrible names for relating this story. But please consider yourself in this situation with a young child in tow before you conclude that I am some sort of “…ist.”

    1. ist’s and ism’s
      I too have been accosted by what I believe to have been inappropriate behavior in the presence of my children. I agree the unpredictable outcome is disconcerting. But I also want my kids to climb outside the box and learn they don’t live in an isolated bubble. The notion and their comprehension should contribute in armoring them well into adulthood.

      I’m in favor of supporting both the virile and vulnerable just alike. In so doing, the collective body benefits. Better we embrace and educate than to leave our neighbors without aspiration, hope, focus and direction. Perhaps, the person that confronted our families did not have the benefit of instruction National Louis is scheduled to offer.

      Incidentally, bigotry, prejudice and racism are founded in the type of “fear” you describe in writing anonymously.

      1. Evanston is my home, too
        “Incidentally, bigotry, prejudice and racism are founded in the type of “fear” you describe in writing anonymously.”

        No, actually, my reason for writing anonymously is the quickness with which people will label me with ugly words. Just think about how that tendency by many, many people in this town reduces honest conversation.

        Of course, my child does not live in some kind of protective bubble. He has been exposed to many people from diverse backgrounds. But I do not believe that we, as a community, should blindly accept borderline anti-social behavior so that children fear for their safety.

        I did not think that someone could possible rationalize my child and my unnerving experience. But I shouldn’t be surprised because many Evanstonians will accept any and all assaults on quality of life in this town in the name of some vague and fuzzy notions of “diversity.” And then they will attack those who object to not feeling safe.

        Evanston must recognize that we ALL need to feel welcome and safe here. Do you think that my son and I really want to frequent the Main Street shopping district more often because of that encounter? No. That right to walk that street has been irreparably damaged for us. But those who defend vague notions of “diversity” see nothing wrong with us being afraid for our safety. (And are you the “…ist” for assuming that race played a role in that interaction?) That should quality of life issue should concern everyone.

        Perhaps you should take a poll and find out how many parents of young children would welcome such an encounter in a business district of their town? Even if I hadn’t had my child, I would have been scared.

        We have ventured far from the original story about a dormitory for college students with disabilities. Everyone must recognize that people need to be safe in this town and my family doesn’t feel safe in that area any more.

        I will not write again on this subject because I know that it just gives you the excuse to preach that “holier than thou” speech and excuse me as some “…ist” whose opinion can be disregarded. I will not be able to persuade you that your conclusions are wrong or that all residents have the right to feel safe.

        1. Awareness
          I am sorry that you had the experience you did and I truly do not want to criticize. I do, however, hope that you take seriuos consideration of the fact that your child is following your lead in how he reacted to this situation. He was/still is scared because you were and still are. And not that it isn’t scary, but you are in control of how you react to it and the example that you set. There’s too much fear in the world right now and it’s crippling a lot of people. Please don’t let one bad experience ruin an entire street for you and your family. Teach your children to be aware of their surroundings and how to take care of themselves, but don’t teach them to be scared of life.

    2. I’m Sorry
      In all our years of living near Main Street and the residential care facility there, this kind of incident has never happened to us. But it is awful that it happened to you. As long as Evanston is such a pedestrian city, it could also happen anywhere, on any block. I had a friend who used to call people like these “children of God” because they often had no one else. I remember trying to figure out how to explain the behavior of our “neighbors” to my children.

      In the future, here are some options for people who find themselves in a very uncomfortable encounter on the streets of Evanston,

      Walk into a store and tell someone there what’s happening. They may very well know the person and if he/she is dangerous. They may know who to call, or even what to say to get the street person to move along or go home.

      Turn around and look right at the person and say “you are bothering us” or “why are you bothering us.” I know, it takes a lot of courage. But, sometimes these folk don’t know they are talking out loud or walking too close. A polite challange allows them to think a minute.

      Get out your cell phone and call 911. It may be that the person bothering you has mixed meds and alcohol and needs attention. Our Evanston police officers know these folks very well and they have a wide range of options. Just as you would call the police if you saw a raging drunk walking down the middle of Oakton Street, which I have seen, you can call the police anytime you are worried or bothered.

      Call your alderman. If a resident of a care facility is pounding on car doors, then someone is not doing their supervisory job and needs to get an authoratative phone call. Believe me, those in charge listen when an alderman calls.

      Uncomfortable situations can walk right up to your door, ring the bell, and beg to earn some money raking leaves, although drunk and at 9 at night. It happens to us about once a year, no matter how many times I say no and never. In our neighborhood we have learned to call 911 every time so that the next person down the block doesn’t have to deal with the same situation.

      1. Thought provoking
        Thought provoking suggestions Candice. I’ve tried the “you’re bothering me” approach and it works. As far as what I tell my children about our “neighbors” I tell them the truth. No fairy candy land cabbage patch stories – – no matter their age. Whatever the question at whatever age I respect them enough to answer their questions and concerns honestly..

        And things I cannot explain to our satisfaction merit a trip to the library or out to seek expert advice. I’m pleased at how well the children respond to people with disabilities. So well in fact, we’ve discussed doing volunteer work at Park School.

        Good times!

        Woo woo.

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