Evanston’s Economic Development Committee voted this week to spend up to $9,000 on efforts to organize a merchants’ group in the business district around Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, whose 2nd Ward includes the neighborhood, said that one pressing issue is the image of the neighborhood.
He cited, as an example of the problem, reports that the Next Theatre company, which has rehersal space at the Evanston Plaza shopping center, has resisted the idea of creating a performance space there because some members of the group don’t believe the area is safe.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said that any such fears are unfounded. Rainey, who has a grandchild who takes classes at Dance Center Evanston in the plaza, said, "Women and little children come out of there all the time," and its very safe.
"I’ve been there every week for the last four years," and the notion that the area isn’t safe is just false, she added.
Plan Commissioner Seth Freeman said he lives in the neighborhood and shops at the Dominick’s supermarket at least three days a week.
"I do hear comments of peeople feeling it’s not safe. A lot of that is the feel that the mall is abandoned — a feeling that there are not enough shops or people there," Freeman said.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said that the effort to organize the merchants’ group sould be "a signal from the city to all those businesses that we’re behind them and want to see them succeed."
Jean-Baptiste said the merchants’ group would include business owners from the larger neighborhood, not just the shopping center.