Evanston’s Lakefront Committee Wednesday night dug into a controversial proposal to build a marina and convention center on the city’s lakefront.

The nine-member panel appointed by the mayor held its first meeting last month and is scheduled to report back to the City Council by mid-August.

The committee is reviewing the feasibility of a concept proposed by local architect Mike Vasilko, who argues that the city could dramatically increase economic activity and tax revenue by more intensively developing the lakefront.

That concept is diametrically opposed to a Lakefront Master Plan adopted three-and-a-half years ago and conceived at the height of the economic boom, which generally called for preserving the entire lakefront as park-like open space.

But with city revenues continuing to sag as the economy only fitfully recovers from the recession, and with the city facing unfunded pension, bond and other debts that Vasilko says total over $450 million, some members of the City Council have concluded that lakefront development just might be a good idea.

So, surrounded by poster boards, Vasilko outlined theoretical development plans that could place a marina along the shoreline or offshore in the lake, fronting either city-owned or Northwestern University-owned lakefront property.

Under one scenario, a marina might be built on an artificial island off the lake shore.

Arts venues and a convention center, he suggested, could be built either on landfill, or existing park land, or facing the existing parkland on a block bounded by Church and Davis streets, Forest Place and Judson Avenue now occupied by high-priced single family homes.

Vasilko claimed it’s too early in the process to worry about costs for the project, and said costs couldn’t even be accurately evaluated before a potential location for the marina was determined.

He argued that a fully realized development could provide the city with world-class cultural venues that would turn the city into a national travel destination.

Although committee members agreed that Evanston needs to find new ways to generate tourism and revenue, they didn’t agree about whether the project makes sense or where a marina might be located.

And the idea of adding any active uses to the lakefront was strongly opposed by some members — especially those who live along the lake shore.

Join the Conversation


  1. What is the Point?

    It will get shot down.

    It will never happen… not in Evanston. 

    Fact and feasibility will not kill this. 

    Leftist ideology and militancy, the hallmark of Evanston's reputation, will kill this development.

    You know it, I know it, our neighbors know it. will be enlisted again to roll over a soft City Council (if not left leaning) and Development Committee.

    The reason?  Pick – the environment, the horizon, windmills, anti business fervor, correlation of sailboats to wealth to hurt Evanston's reputation, lack of social engineering initiative, lack of social services with a harbor, more plastic bags, no room for chickens to run for fresh eggs, Jan does not like it… whatever.

    We should be lucky to not only have a lakefront, but an ABUNDANT amount of lakefront that could possibly accommodate this development.  This reality falls on deaf ears.

    Evanston is failing. 

  2. ‘Too early…to worry about costs’?

    A substantial proposal such as this must be financially self sustaining else Evanston taxpayers will be liable for this potential "white elephant" Already a substantial amount of time and energy has been spent on this potential proposal which is a major cost in itself. A thoughtful and thorough proposal must include a comprehensive understanding of the costs involved, both fixed and variable.

    Other than a persistent proponent for this conceptual proposal, what analysis has been conducted? Just 2 miles away exists the North Shore Performing Arts Center. Rarely have i experienced difficulties getting tickets to any performance. What is their financial situation? From what i can gather from reading the papers and surfing the internet, other communities with convention centers aren't experiencing prosperity. Organizations seem to be cutting back on conventions and conferences – maybe this is just a cyclical low or maybe Evanston will garner large market share gains. Has this been analyzed?

    "World class cultural venues" ?? "National travel destination"?? Has medical marijuana been approved in Illinois? Just 30 minutes away exist the Chicago Art Institute, Lyric Opera, Museum of Science & Industry, Field Museum, and the Chicago Symphony – those are world class institutions. Please provide specifics instead of hyperbole.

    I enjoyed the movie Field of Dreams, I'm not convinced that the Evanston version will have a happy ending. 

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *