The plan for a 49-story tower on the Fountain Square block drew cheers from local design professionals but jeers from some other residents at Wednesday’s Evanston Plan Commission hearing.

Architect Stephen Yas, who lives on the edge of downtown at 1889 Maple Ave., said that he and other members of the non-profit group Design Evanston have reviewed the plans with the developers and believe the project will be a “profoundly welcome landmark for our downtown urban core” and that the design “is likely to be recognized far beyond our city’s borders.”

But Paul Barker of 815 Oakton St., an artist, said that while the building is beautiful, it would only be appropriate in Chicago, “not in my back yard.”

He said here building would be “a monster” and that population limits should be set for downtown and all of Evanston.

Mr. Yas suggested that the new tower, combined with a revitalized Fountain Square plaza, would provide for Evanston a modern equivalent to the Piazza San Marco, the centeral landmark and gathering place in Venice.

He said the building, with 218 condo units, two floors of retail space and three levels of parking would be “less dense than the Park Evanston and Sherman Plaza” developments downtown.

He said the design was “superb architecture” and praised the 37.5 foot setback of the tower from the property line on its three bordering streets.

But Mr. Yas said the design group would like to see further articulation in the design for the parking levels, something the project architect, George Halik, said he was working on. And Mr. Yas urged the developers to seek a higher level of environmental, or LEED, certification than they have so far committed to.

Patrick Coffey of 807 Church St., president of the Evanston Galleria’s condo association said at least 10 of the 54 unit owners in his building have said they’ll put their units up for sale if the new project is approved.

“We lived through Sherman Plaza going up,” Mr. Coffey said. “We dealt with construction noise, pounding, dirt and mess, even overspray on our cars on our parking deck. And now we’re dealing with the noise of air conditioners from that building.”

“Many people have come up to me and are saying we won’t go through another three years of construction, and it would be just devastating for our building to put that many units on the market all at once”

Gerald Gordon of 1228 Lake St. said “I’m basically for this project,” but he asked whether the developers were asking for any financial assistance from the city.

The developer’s attorney, Steve Friedland, said the developers are not asking any financial assistance from the city and said that incremental tax revenue from the project, which has to be spent on projects that benefit the tax increment financing district in which the project is located, could be used by the city to restore Fountain Square.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Clarification of Design Evanston “approval”

    As a concerned citizen and one who attended the Plan Commission meeting last night, I would like to clarify the “blessing” of Design Evanston. It is my understanding that the D.E. group consists of about 40 members. It is also my understanding that their private audience with the development team was put together at the last minute and did not include their entire membership. I think it was clear in the letter that was read and submitted to the Plan Commission that the views of the letter were those of Mr. Yas and a small core group (9 or 10 if I recall) who happen to be members of Design Evanston.

    While I think everyone (including Mr. Yas) are entitled to their opinion, I do not feel that it should carry any more weight than any other opinion presented. The convenience of the private meeting with the development team and the group should be taken in context.

    Is the architecture interesting? Quite possibly. Would a fellow architect find it compelling? Probably. However, the question is whether it fits with the vision of Evanston for the downtown area. As one citizen stated very well last night: we live in an era of “bigger is better” and have a tendency to want to create monuments to display our prowess. Unfortunately, bigger is not always better. We need to really consider the future of Evanston, not simply the financial needs of a single development team.

  2. I would really like a well
    I would really like a well articulated explanation as to why so many people in Evanston are so fervently opposed to new construction that rises above around six stories. I think it fair to say that most people would like to see tax revenue from real estate increase, while also keeping prices as affordable as possible, and I don’t know of a way to do accomplish both of those objectives other than through the increased density that taller buildings bring.

    1. Height is all in the Context of the Neighborhood and Zoning
      I don’t think you can say EVERYONE is “fervently opposed to new construction that rises above around six stories”. If you are referring simply to the tower proposal, I think most people oppose the fact that it DOUBLES the height of the tallest neighboring building. At 500 odd feet, it blows away every existing plan and zoning code for the downtown area. I’m relatively sure that a well designed building (including proper setbacks) around the same height as the existing neighboring buildings (which, by the way, are over four times your six story example) would be acceptable to the majority of citizens. Putting a well-designed 25 story building in that block would be in-context with the neighboring buildings. Putting a 49-story phallus to pay homage to a development team with no thought to a plan for the downtown is simply ridiculous.

      As for the tax revenue created by density, we have put up MANY dense downtown developments with little to no effect on taxes. Increased density, always creates an increase in demand for services which costs more money. There are MANY good reasons not to build 49 stories, property tax revenue alone is not a valid argument for approving the project.

      1. Didn’t Read My Question
        Chris, apparently you didn’t read my question. I didn’t say “EVERYONE” is fervently opposed to new construction that rises above around six stories, as you tried to quote in your reply. By misconstruing my words like that from the beginning of your reply, you show me that you are not interested in actually trying to answer my question, but to promote a specific point of view that you have. Nor did I ever mention the proposed 49-story building in my question; my question was just connected to the building proposal, in that I find so many articles on the Evanston Now website about building proposals meeting great public resistance due to their height (with six stories appearing to be a magic number). I think your response highlights a very important problem that must be addressed in order to move forward with plans for the future development of the downtown: people need to stop coming into discussions with the sole purpose of promoting a specific agenda and need to sit down and actually listen to people with opinions that may differ from their own, try to understand them, and try to reconcile them with opinions that they already have. I fear that requires far more tolerance and maturity than I have seen displayed by people on these pages and in recounts of public discussions, though.

  3. Clarification of Design Evanston “approval”
    I agree completely with Chris that the “approval” of the monstrous tower development for the very core of our community does not reflect the opinion of the majority of DESIGN EVANSTON members. Steven Yas does not now nor has he ever spoken for me and neither does Dave Galloway.

    When Bob Teska and I and a few other professionals started DESIGN EVANSTON in the late 1970’s, we intended it to be an independent organization, independent of City Council, City Staff,the Chamber of Commerce, EV-Mark,et al, independent to apply our professional expertise in City Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Graphic Design and Photography in attempting, by means of discussions and design critique, to maintain and possibly enhance of the quality of life in Evanston.

    We did not succumb to the siren calls of members of the City Staff to endorse their favorite projects or to cuddle up to their favorite developers. We were independent.

    Now that a small group of DESIGN EVANSTON members have bargained away that spirit of and drive for independence, perhaps in self-serving interests, the majority of DESIGN EVANSTON members must speak out and act to recover that independence for our organization.

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