Debate over Evanston’s economic development policies started sizzling Monday night when the mayor had to break a tie vote on whether to provide financial help to Now We’re Cookin’ for its planned expansion to become a culinary business incubator.

And the hot debate is expected to continue Wednesday night when backers of a planned expansion of the Heartwood Center holistic health space go before the Economic Development Committee to object to the city’s staff’s reluctance to fund that project as proposed.

Monday night Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who’s been a fervent backer of several recent economic development efforts on Howard Street and elsewhere in her own ward, led the opposition fo the Now We’re Cookin’ proposal, which called for the city providing a $35,050 grant.

Rainey said the city should not make grants — but instead loan money to businesses.

Nell Funk, Now We’re Cookin’s owner, has outlined a three year plan to grow her existing shared kitchen business at 1601 Payne St. to provide more comprehensive services to start-up businesses in the food service industry.

In addition to the $35,050 grant, which would represent about 52 percent of projected costs for the expansion through the end of this year, Funk projects asking for another $60,500 over the next two years as the business grows.

Most of the money would be used to cover the cost of hiring a new staff person as an “incubator manager.”

In addition to Rainey. Aldermen  Fiske, Braithwaite and Wilson voted against the project Monday. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, was absent, which gave Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl the opportunity to break the tie.

The Heartwood Center, at 1818 Dempster St., now provides office space for 40 self-employed wholistic health practitioners, who offer services ranging from acupuncture and massage to psychoherapy.

About half the space is leased to the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse, which is moving to new quarters next month, and Heartwood Center owner Nancy Floy hopes to renovate the vacated space to expand the center.

She says she has a wait-list of 40 more people who’d like to set up their practices at Heartwood and is planning a two-face renovation project, with the first phase adding more treatment rooms and office space and a small retal space selling wholistic healthcare products.

Then in the second phase she’d turn the rest of the soon-to-be-vacant portion of the building into a conference enter for classes and corporate events.

For the first phase of the project she’s asking for $100,000 from the city. She’s lined up $97,000 in financing from Fifth Third Bank and plans to invest $53,000 of her own funds in the expansion.

The city’s economic development staff has raised concerns about the size of the grant request. At 40 percent of total project costs, a staff memo says, it’s substantially larger than the 25 percent share of public funds typical for other projects.

But Dickelle Fonda and other neighbors of Heartwood say the center has provided a tremendous economic boost to the struggling commercial district around the intersection of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.

Fonda plans to question why the city is balking at this request, but has moved forward with many other economic development projects on Howard Street and in other parts of the city.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Protocols for economic development & other decision-making

    There is no question that we need to have some better agreement on how decisions are made in a public process and how City staff and official time is allocated.   It does often appear that the squeakiest wheel gets the grease and that ideas for use of staff time and city $$ are entered into the pipeline long before the general public even gets wind of various projects.   

    I would recommend that the City of Evanston should investigate more transparent and streamlined methods of allocating resources (both time and $$).   Participatory budgeting is such a mechanism that has proved itself in many places, including just across the border in Chicago's 49th ward.

    I would be happy to volunteer to be on a citizens committee to investigate such streamlining.   Such a committee should be committed to (in my opinion):  (1) easing staff and elected officials daily burdens of being pulled in so many directions, (2) creating a fully transparent process for City decision-making that would also educate citizens on day-to-day government, (3) making it easy and direct for citizens to get involved in specific areas, and (4) ultimately creating a civic climate that produces win-win decisions based on collectively adopted principles and processes.

    The principle of creating win-win decisions in a community is that no one — no resident, no business, no institution — is displaced out of the community. 

    These comments should not be interpreted as an objection to the allocation of city $$ to Now We're Cookin', which is a business that I support.  I have objection to any allocation of taxpayer reosurces that are (1) not based on clear principles, (2) not allocated through a clear, public process, and (3) that does not have a civic engagement component to it.    Recent other red flags for me have been:  the Heartwood request, the CoLab request, Trader Joe's precedence over zoning requests by a "small" business dependent on summer revenues, the Church Street bike lane and amenities (designed without citizen input).  

    I am happy to be part of the conversation to establish better public processes in Evanston, something that I believe our city manager and our mayor have been working towards. 

    Debbie Hillman, Evanston Food Council

    D. Hillman Strategies: Food Policy for Voters 

  2. Economic rule of subsidies

    Economics 101:  If you subsidize something, you get more of it. 

    Subsidizing businesses to fill property vacancies and (artificially) increase revenue doesn't solve our problems.  Subsidizing businesses delfects costs to other residents/businesses who don't receive subsidies.  As a result, those businesses/residents are more likely to close/move.  In turn, we end up with more vacancies and more businesses/residents seeking subsidies.  Simply put, subsidizing our way out of vacancies will eventually result in more vacancies.

    If we are to improve this situation, we must offer potential businesses/residents an atmosphere that is competitive in value (location, taxation, regulation, etc.) to other municipalities.  This is quite a daunting task, given our existing tax rates, pension liabilities, and regulations.  But if we want to increase city revenue, it is the only sustainable path.  Subsidizing our way there is a short-term fix that only aggravates the long-term problem.

  3. Why fund ?

    The story quote about helping the struggling community is typical.  As was pointed out another alderman opposed projects in other areas but promoted them in her area.

    The Council should not be picking projects by how they effect their area—if the business is not meaningful and useful [Heartwood sure does not even sound like a real business–more like quack business]—and then if they are they should be able to get a bank loan.  We know the Council has seen its business as 'picking winners'—where they think they can do this better than banks and investors.  Now they make clear what we suspected/knew—they pick them to boost their own area to get votes.  We are fighting Washington to get rid of pork and slipping things into bills for friends.  The Council does this all the time !

    1. Heartwood Center as an important local business

      Heartwood is indeed a real business. It opened in 1999 in Downtown Evanston and provides independent psychotherapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, yoga teachers and others a place to rent space and work collaboratively with fellow practitioners as they grow their own practices — rather than make money for someone else as an employee. Heartwood moved to the Dempster/Dodge area to expand the business and connect with the area which they have done for the past two years. I've had massage sessions there, taken tai chi classes and attended events in the classroom.

      The discussion about funding sources is pertinent and is a great place to continue the debate. However, perhaps we could refrain from casually disparaging hard working local business owners who are trying to make a difference.

  4. Funding and grants not fair to all

    The Heartwood Center owners have a good point- Why should the city be funding or loans to so many other projects, but not to their project?  

    Why does the city council feel that a wine bar on Howard Street, a theater, a pancake house, Let's Cookin, Trader Joe's, or any of their other projects are significantly better than Heartwood?

    Does everyone with a decent, morally acceptable idea who wants less than 20% financing from the city qualify for a loan, grant, or subsidy? When does it end?! 

    This case highlights the point that so many of us have been making on Evanston NOw this year-  By saying yes to some and no to others, the city council believes that they know better than private investors and banks.

      Meanwhile, city council votes no to privately financed businesses that violate the moral opinions of a few.  How such an uber- liberal town can be simultaneously so ultra-conservative against sexy women and ex-convicts is beyond me.

    Keep Wilson next year, the only one who always votes no to pet projects. Vote the rest out.



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