A city panel voted Tuesday night to recommend the city stop considering proposals by architect Mike Vasilko to develop a performing arts center on new landfill off Evanston’s Lake Michigan shore.

A city panel voted Tuesday night to recommend the city stop considering proposals by architect Mike Vasilko to develop a performing arts center on new landfill off Evanston’s Lake Michigan shore.

The decision by the the special Lakefront Committee appointed last fall to make a recommendation to the Economic Development Committee about the concept came on a 7-0 vote, with two committee members absent.

All five of the members who live near the lakefront were present for the vote. And four of them have long publicly opposed lakefront development.

But the committee did vote to commend Vasilko for his efforts in developing the concept.

Vasilko had revised the plan, in response to earlier criticism from committee members, to show the landfill site moved from a location directly east of the city-owned Dawes Park at Church Street to a position east of the current Northwestern University lakefill campus. (A rendering of the latest proposal is shown above.)

That attempted to answer criticism that the city’s Lakefront Plan, adopted four years ago, called for only minimal development along the shoreline, because the plan dealt only with city owned property — not with the university campus.

Vasilko has argued that the development — which he saw as a location for major arts venues that would draw audiences from across the metro area as well as a convention center, hotel and marina — would be a major generator of tax revenue for the city and help it escape from its current fiscal problems.

He sought the committee’s support for city funding of studies by independent consultants to assess the market demand for the facilities and their financial feasibility — studies that, based on the cost of a recent study of downtown arts venues, might cost the city around $50,000.

But the committee members — based either on their general opposition to lakefront development or a personal assessment that the project isn’t feasible — didn’t want to go there.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the project would bring “very intense commercial use” to the lakefront that she opposes.

Percy Berger, of 140 Dempster St., said that lakefront development was only one of many possible solutions to the city’s budget problems and that all of them should be evaluated before deciding to move forward on such a dramatic alternative.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she didn’t think money spent on a feasibility study would be well spent unless there was a clear indication that the university was interested in such a project — and no one in a position to speak for the university appeared at the meeting.

David Reynolds, the owner of the Homestead Hotel on Hinman Avenue, said hardly any performing arts groups generate more than half of their operating budgets from sales, “and I think it’s a real stretch to think that first class arts organizations could come here and compete with” groups in downtown Chicago.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the arts can generate revenue to some degree, “but not at the level to help us get out of debt.”

“Arts organizations can’t make money,” Burrus said. “They bring in people, but its not huge dollars.”

Chris Ernst, of 1639 Hinman Ave., voiced doubts that approval could be obtained for a new landfill project from agencies that regulate use of the lakebed and said he didn’t believe Evanston’s road infrastructure could support the traffic that such a project would draw.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, called the plan “a grand vision for Evanston’s future” but said, “This is too large for my own imagination. I’m hamstrung to even picture this on the lakefront.”

Update 9/6/11: Vasilko tells Evanston Now his intent was not to have the city pay for feasibility studies by independent consultants — that he is prepared to pay for them himself. The original version of the story did not reflect that.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. City leaders stomp out the embers of another dream

    What an absolute shame.

    This Lakefront Committee where the vast majority live or work near the lake decide the rest of Evanston can't enjoy the lakefront with an arts center, a marina, bike paths, a convention center and maybe a museum.

    No, this committee knows better. These seven committee members simply know that this proposed plan wouldn't generate enough tax revenue – there is no need for a consultant, they say.

    Yet, the City Council hired a consultant to determine the best place for an arts center in downtown Evanston (which I do support). Three of those City Council members happen to be on this Lakefront Committee – Fiske, Burrus and Grover.

    Let's not forget the Council's obsession over windmills. It doesn't matter about the obstacle course to determine whether all the multitude governmental agencies would go along with windmills but the cost would be astronomical. The Council is going full steam ahead, wasting city resources on a pipe dream that won't "get us out of debt."

    About five years ago the City Council voted not to accept a federal grant to pay for a consultant to determine the feasibility of a marina on Sheridan Road across the cemetery on Evanston's far southeast side. Lakefront residents organized and killed the deal – probably some on this Lakefront Committee were part of that effort.

    City Council member Burrus says this lakefront plan is not enough to get us out of debt so she voted against it. What is enough to get us out of debt?

    A bag ban or bag tax? Raising city taxes, gas taxes and utility fees? Closing branch libraries or recreation centers?  Giving city union employees more pay raises? Increasing the Evanston Township Assessor's Office – a duplicative service – budget 80 percent and giving the deputy assessor a hefty pay raise?

    Or how about City Council members giving themselves a 20 percent pay raise and possibly a pension? What about not giving a liquor license to Tilted Kilt that wanted to open a downtown restaurant (that storefront still remains vacant). Let's not forget that the City Council enacted an ordinance that prohibits storefront owners to rent to church groups in certain areas.

    Say, what about that green building ordinance the Council passed a few years back – how many new developments came to Evanston because of it? Remember when the mayor and some council members held a press conference outside a business that was closing down, demanding they stay open? What came of that?

    Think of all the jobs lost in this proposed lakefront plan.

    What we have on the Council are people that have no vision or courage to do something bold, brash and sensible. We need good leadership in Evanston  – folks who have the fortitude to fight the nimbys and provide ALL Evanstonians a more dynamic lakefront and some tax relief.

    City Councilmen Jane Grover admitted the lakefront plan was a "grand vision for Evanston's future" but in the same breath said it was "too large for [her] own imagination." I think the same was said of Daniel Burnham's lakefront plan that was developed for ALL Chicagoans not just the ones who lived near the lake. Thank God almighty the Chicago City Council back then listened to Burnham and not some group of nimbys who wanted the lakefront to themselves.

    We need quality leadership in Evanston to steady the boat and steer us out of this fiscal nightmare. We need people with vision who can dream big.

    There are City Council seats awaiting the genius of Evanstonians. Where are the modern day Daniel Burnhams? Please step forward, the good city of Evanston needs you, now.

  2. Committee votes to kill lakefront concept

    Wise choice – very sensible conclusion!  Thanks for keeping our traditional lakefront for the people – Love the new path and the improvements!

    Respectfully submitted, Brian Becharas

    1. Evanston’s lakefront is only for those who pay for use.

      An interesting comparison of lakefronts is that of Evanston and of Chicago. The Evanston lakefronts are for those who pay for use.  Chicago lakefronts are already paid for by "the Chicago powers that be" and appear to be free to everyone who wants to enjoy Lake Michigan's water and beaches. (Evanston does have "charitable access" to beaches.)

      Just think about it; and ask yourself "When will we pay to enter our summer street art fests and ethnic fests?" Be thankful that entry to them is still free of charge!


  3. Lakefront project

    I have not seen any numbers or marketing studies that would make economic sense.

    Bold? Yes.

    Feasible? Who the hell knows.

    With convention/gambling cities such as Vegas reeling from foreclosures, why is this different? This is not an entertainment desert — there are venues from Highland Park to the U of C that offer music, theater, dance, etc.

    Who is the sugar daddy who will fund this?

    NU? Laughable.

    City?  After pension plans and  few other things.

    Taxpayer?  Ouch!

  4. Cut off our feet before we can run

    Thanks Mike for a wonderful and bold idea. This proposed plan takes advantage of one of our greatest resources, the lake. Contrary to comments that this would destroy our lakefront, I disagree.

    The plan overlaps the southern tip of NU which is not really utilized by the general population. The rest of our wonderful lakefront is left untouched by this development.

    Now, I have not seen any numbers to know the cost or feasibility of such a grand idea. What I have seen though is an unwillingness on part of the Evanston leaders to look beyond the last grains of sand and imagine what opportunities a lake development can offer.

    I'm sorry to see this collapse without a real effort on the part of the city council. Make no small plans? Not in Evanston.

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