Evanston aldermen on the city’s Economic Development Committee split sharply Wednesday night in their views about the concept of a marina and cultural arts center that might be built on landfill off the lakefront’s Dawes Park.

A drawing showing the proposed development extending about two-thirds of a mile off shore.

After listening to a presentation from Mike Vasilko an Evanston architect and avid backer of the concept, two aldermen whose lakefront wards are nearest the site were sharply opposed to the project, while three others, whose constituents don’t live along the lake were much more supportive of lakefront development.

None of the aldermen were willing to buy into the full concept Vasilko presented — which includes a 650-boat marina, several performing arts venues of different sizes, a hotel and convention center, a 5,000-car underground parking garage and the site for a possible Barack Obama presidential library.

But except for Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, all seemed interested in exploring the potential for waterfront development that could enhance the city’s tax base in a time of strain on the city’s budget.

A rendering of what the site might look like, superimposed on an aerial photo of the lakefront and downtown Evanston. Vasilko says the project would be designed to tie in with Church and Davis Streets to encourage visitors to shop and dine downtown.

Wynne tried to cut off further discussion of the concept, saying the city’s lakefront master plan, adopted 30 months ago, called for no increase in development on the waterfront and that city staff should not be authorized to spend any more time discussing the marina project with Vasilko.

But Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said the lakefront plan “is not dogma” and that plans can change. He argued that residents of the 1st and 3rd Wards should not have a veto over what’s built on the lakefront.

He said that when School District 65 proposed building its new administration building on parkland along the North Shore Channel residents along the canal “came to council and stood on chiars and protested and cried,” but the council voted 8-1 to approve the project, with only the then 2nd Ward alderman voting against it.

“We face a tremendous pension obligation and revenue continues to drop,” Jean-Baptiste said, suggesting that the city needs to look at every plausible opportunity for economic development to improve its financial picture.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he supported Jean-Baptiste’s view. “We may be surprised in the next couple of years how minds change.”

“What was valid a couple of years ago isn’t valid any more,” he added. “We need to think on this scale, whether its ultimately built in the lake or not.”

Tendam said he’d heard many comments from residents of his ward favoring a marina. (A marina proposal several years ago at South Boulevard that the council ultimately rejected was strongly supported by then 6th Ward alderman Edmund Moran.)

“I know the 6th Ward is a long way from the lake,” Tendam said, “but it’s our lake too. Maybe its just a question of the right people speaking up.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she liked the marina concept, too. She said she liked the “money-maker ideas” not the dreams.

“I don’t want the presidential library,” Rainey said, “it wouldn’t bring us much money.”

“I don’t support any of the money pits out there — the orchestra hall, the opera house, the children’s theater. The cost of financing and supporting them is just overwhelming,” she added, saying she thought some of the ideas were “pretty elitist.”

“But I think Evanston needs a hotel, and I love the idea of the marina,” she said, adding that it would bring excitement to the community and people with money.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she saw “kernals of really good ideas” in the proposal, but added, “This would be totally unacceptable to the folks who live along the lake,” and suggested shifting the focus of the cultural projects to downtown from the lakefront.

Alderman Jane Grover, whose 7th Ward includes the far north end of the lakefront, likely least affected by the Vasilko plan, said Vasilko “is asking us to think about Evanston differently, and there is extraordinary value in that.”

“It’s an ambitious and different vision,” she said, “and we’ve got to think differently about our future in Evanston.”

The committee agreed to schedule further discussion of the proposal and what role city staff might play in evaluating the plan at its Sept. 22 meeting.

Related document

FIne and Performing Arts District Proposal (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


    1. No heliport, please

      I don’t think we need a heliport.  But I am excited about a 300-seat restaurant on the lake.

       Currently the Broad Street IHOP, in Bloomfield, NJ claims to be the largest – with a mere 250 seats.  Let’s show New Jersey that Evanston is #1.


      1. Mr. Who, thank you for your

        Mr. Who, thank you for your comments.  If this proposal goes forward, Evanston will be No. 1 in more catagories than largest restaurant.  I appreciate your enthusiasm.  Just curious why you don’t like the helicopter idea.  The proposal suggests the heliport would be operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Thanks again,  Mike

        1. heliport

          If the  primary purpose of the heliport is for the Coast Guard , police, and medical evacuations , then it sounds good. 

          If it is for Thurston Howell III or Chuckie Dawes, Jr. to get to their yachts, then forget about it.

          I don’t like helicopters.  They are noisy and dangerous, and should be used only when necessary.

    2. 3 KM of skateboard path

      Anonymous, the proposal would provide for over 3 km of paths on grade for pedestrian use, and I suppose for skateboards too.  I could see some parts of the first lower level being available to skateboard activities, and at least partially protected from the weather.  Thanks for your comment.  Mike

  1. And another branch library!

    Maybe we could put another branch library out there too!  It could be on an island!  It could be the only branch library that would exclusively be accessible by boat (or helicopter).  We have been ignoring the needs of Evanston’s transient community of lake-dwellers for too long!

    1. Branch libraries

      dp_ witt, thank you for your comment although it is hard to find something worth replying to in what you wrote.

      It seems you might know about the branch library situation in Evanston.  There are only two branch outlets.  The city voted to close them.  Volunteers worked to raise money to keep them open until Feburary of 2011.  If the budget situation is as desperate then as it is now, I very much doubt the branch libraries will survive.

      If you have raised children in Evanston, like I have, you would know that the branch libraries play a significant role in their childhood.  It would be a shame to lose them. In fact, the two branches are not even enough if everyone were treated equally and had a branch library within equal proximity to their homes and schools.

      Should you take the time to actually read the proposal, you would find that one of the goals for the suggested facilities is to be able to raise enough revenue to support branch libraries and other social programs in Evanston.

      This is actually an achievable goal.  It would serve you well to spend less time mocking others, and more time offering solutions.

      Thanks again,


  2.  I like the cheesy Google

     I like the cheesy Google Sketchup rendition of the plan complete with heliport!  There is no way this plan is serious–it sounds like some sort of "Yes Men" hoax.

    1. Very serious

      Anonymous, thank you for your comments.

      Evanston has very serious budget problems not the least of which is an obligation for  $174,000,000 for the police and firemen’s pension fund.  I don’t know if you are a property owner in Evanston or if you pay taxes, but the financial situation in Evanston is overwhelming.

      You may have another plan to offer that would make a dent in this burden.  If so, I would be very interested in seeing it.   Read the proposal.  Read my replies to some of the other comments.  Then reply with any new comments that are worth responding to. I will then take the time to reply.

      Thanks again,


  3. This is hideous

    This is a total eyesore. Why don’t we make good use of the land and facilities we already have before screwing around with the lake and the shore? And btw, Barack Obama is NOT going to put his presidential library in Evanston. That would be over the dead bodies of every single person in Chicago.

    1. Anonymous, Thank you for your

      Anonymous, Thank you for your comments.

      It is hard to debate one’s personal like or dislike for the visual arts, architecture, or other subjective media.  If you have time, please read some of my replies to others who have commented.

      One of the points in the proposal is that Evanston does not have facilities of a caliber that would draw visitors to Evanston from far and wide.  The goal of the proposal is to develop venues to make Evanston a point of destination for the national audiance, expecially those with disposalbe income.

      There are reasons for the shape of the land masses and reasons for "why the lake" as a site in my other replies.  This is a preliminary proposal and nothing is cast in stone.   As for a presidential library, well it doesn’t hurt to offer a site for consideration, especially if the site were like no other every considered by previous presidents.

      The closest site to water was the Kennedy.Presidential library and museum.  A site off our shore would be much more dramatic; stunning actually.  I understand the competition which would not only include Chicago’s Hyde Park, but Harvard University and the State of Hawaii.    But let’s follow in the footsteps of "yes we can" and not be the city of "yes we can’t".

      Thank you again,


      1. Sorry if I hurt your

        Sorry if I hurt your feelings. Anyone who remembers Navy Pier standing ramshackle and abandoned for years should see the economic and civic risks of building an expensive permanent structure of this kind in the lake. Not to mention the environmental impact. And these are not subjective objections at all.

        I am amazed at your comment that Evanston does not have facilities of a caliber that would draw visitors to Evanston from far and wide. One of the nation’s most prestigious universities, anyone? The fact that retirement homes are champing at the bit to build high-rise communities here is a testament to our town’s appeal, particularly to the wealthy. I haven’t noticed a lot of wealthy people eager to have a huge amusement pier steps from their homes, either–a project like this might bring a string of tourists that will ebb and flow with the economy, but it’s likely to send wealthy taxpaying residents, who typically enjoy their privacy and unspoiled views of nature, running for Barrington.

        I’d like to say Yes We Can to restoring the theater on Sherman behind the Gap and making that a concert and theater destination. I’d like to say Yes We Can to developing any number of currently vacant buildings in downtown Evanston, i.e. the old Borders, as museums or attractions. And I’d like to say Yes We Can to stepping out of the competition for a Presidential Library that has no place in our community and offering our support to the south side of Chicago, which is TRULY in need of facilities that would attract visitors and development.

        1. Thick skin

          You haven’t hurt my feelings.  I have much thicker skin.  The program I outline is far different than that of navy pier.  The venues ultimately selected would be chosen based upon a demand study (market study), and their ability to raise revenue.  Please read the document.  I stand by the statement that Evanston does not have performing arts facilities that would cause someone to come here for a vacation or even a weekend visit.  I concede that parents of Northwestern students most likely visit Evanston, occasionally.  But Evanston needs a bigger draw.  Something in our correspondence suggests to me that you live along the lake, Anonymous.  Sorry if the reality is the lake belongs to all 9 wards and all Evanston citizens.  The lake shore is currently very under utilized.  Thanks again.  Mike

  4. Lakefront Plan

    If we want revenue, why not an industrial port?

    Artist's Rendering

    If someone can find me a single publicly funded marina that more than paid for itself I would appreciate the reference.


    Build it and they will come is not really and appropriate strategy for Evanston.

    Or maybe we can build the long sought after "third airport" on landfill right off of our lakefront?



    1. Hire This Guy!

      Mr. O’Brien,

      With superimposed images like this you should become a regular contributor to Evanston Now. This made my day!

    2. Tom, thank you for your

      Tom, thank you for your comments.

      The marina was only one element of the proposal, and not the core of the revenue producing venues in the proposal.  Casting aspersions towards someone who is trying to make a positive difference, is not a becoming personal trait.

      So let’s look at your legitimate comments, which would exclude an industrial port.  None of these facilities are thought to be "publically funded".  I agree, they would not produce positive revenue streams.  And it is not as simple as built it and they will come.

      Building what will attract visitors from near and far, is the goal of the proposal (excluding gambling casinos and the like).  Any plan this ambitious needs and will eventually involve a market study to determine exactly what types of venues, what size the venues are, and the financial model that makes the proposal work.  The proposal to date is based upon my own research (see my other replies), on my own volunteer time.  I have engaged developers in conversation about the theories behind the venues, the financing and the anticipated revenue that would be produced.

      In its simplest form the theory is Evanston has or creates access to the land.  Evanston writes the program for the use of the land.  Evanston leases the land (fixed length of time) to interested investment groups or developers who pay for the right to be there for a period of time.  Developers construct and operate the buildings or the marina.

      Evanston receives a percentage of the profits, and the tax revenue.  Marina’s that provide off season storage chage about $10,000 annually, for a 30 foot boat.  Do the math.  Evanston would get a share of $1,000,000 for every 100 boats.  Plus the other revenue generated by having boaters come to our shore.  So give me a break Tom.  I am open to any positive constructive criticism you can add to benefit the proposal.

      Thanks again,


  5. What a waste. The fact that

    What a waste.

    The fact that the city is squandering valuable time entertaining such an outlandish and unprofitable scheme while it can’t even afford to pay its bills is absurd.  There are large sections of west Evanston that deserve this kind of attention.  It’s disappointing to continually see the suggestion of a big idea accompanied by absolutely no financial research.  As with any wise businees decision, it all starts with a careful analysis of the money.  Now can we please get back to the real issues, like figuring out to do with the last real estate deal the city got tangled up in, 1817 Church?

    1. Not a Waste of Time

      Anonymous, Thank you for your comment.

      The City of Evanston has spent no money on developing this concept.  For a year, I have been fostering a revenue producing proposal that evolved into what Bill posted recently.  The city granted me 30 minutes of time late on a Wednesday evening to further explain what I have been writing about for the past many months.

      Please read some of my other replies for my perspective on the issues that led me to this concept.  I have researched the financial models of other similar facilities, which is how I came to the list of venues included this proposal. Admittedly there is much more research and collaboration needed if this proposal goes forward.

      I have gone through the phase of complaining, much like your comment regarding 1817 Church.  Merely complaining will get you no where.  Offer the city something positive to react to on that matter.  Regarding my proposal, I would also be very interested in any positive constructive criticism you may have.

      Thanks again,


  6. Think big

    "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…Make big plans, aim high in hope and work."  –  Daniel H. Burnham, architect & city planner (1846 – 1912)

    Making use of Evanston’s waterfront is a great idea that springs from Daniel Burnham’s axoim, "make no little plans."  Burnham, a renown architect (Flatiron Building, NYC) and planner (World’s Comumbian Exposition, Chicago), followed his vision and left Chicago with elements that remain with us still today.  The proposal for a lakefront development in Evanston is indeed visionary and, in the long term, a sensible use for an underutilized shoreline.

    One "Anonymous" writer finds the rendering "hideous."  Well, I’m not exactly enamoured with the suggested form either, but let’s remember that this is merely a conceptual drawing.  It’s almost unfortunate that a conceptual drawing was brought forth, rather than simply a description.  It’s the idea that needs some air and fire to bring it to life.  People react instantly to the "design," and don’t take time to try to examine the idea. The underlying idea is an idea worth exploring.  Inevitably, nowadays, the kneejerk reaction to any idea is to shoot it down.  How sad and what a pathetic commentary on our society as a whole.  50 years ago, 100 years ago, 200 years ago, visionaries were sought out and encouraged.  Today, everyone is immediately wringing their hands whenever any change is proposed or calling their attorneys.  It’s amazing, really, that people with vision even try.

    I suggest that we give this idea an opportunity to be explored.  If, in the end, it is infeasible or unworkable, at least we will have tried.  At least we will have some concrete reasoning to point to when describing why the idea was not executed.  Or, perhaps we will find ourselves with an amazing development.

    1. No Small Plans

      You may know (or perhaps not) that Daniel Burnham also drew up a master plan for the City of Evanston.  You can see it in the special Evanston Archive room at the Library.

      No, it did NOT have a hotel/marina on the waterfront, and unfortunately it appears that the City of E took none of Mr. Burnham’s suggestions.


      Tom O’Brien


      Hi Tom,

      There’s a summary of the 1917 plan online here at Evanston Now:


      And it was the famous Burnham’s son who worked on that plan, not the big man himself.

      — Bill Smith

      1. No Small Plans

        Tom, thank you for your comments.

        The City of Evanston has nothing to do with generating this concept or the drawings.  Nor has the city spent one dime on this study for consultants.  If you read some of my other replies you will get more perspective on why I am fostering the idea of a Fine Arts and Performing Arts District in Evanston (whether or not it ends up on the lakefront).

        By the way, Daniel Burnham’s plans for Lake Michigan did include a series of islands off the west cost of Lake Michigan from Chicago all the way up the lakefront to Wilmette. I am open to any suggestions regarding how to imporve the proposal.  The litmus test for any new facilities is that they need to prove their abiltiy to substantially increase revenue for the City of Evanston.

        Help me out here, Tom.  Thanks,


    2. Think Big


      Thank you for the thoughtful and supportive comments.

      First, I don’t consider myself a visionary nor would I put myself in the same catagory as Burnham or others of that caliber.  My inspiration, oddly was fear for Evanston’s financial future, fear that my family may not have a future in Evanston, and fear that the "qualtiy of life place" that Evanston has created over the decades could quickly become just another suburb.

      I wish residents of Evanston were more aware of the financial situation and acted to do something positive about it.  The city’s obligation towards the police and firemen’s pension fund has increased from an underfunded amount of $148,000,000 one year ago, up to an underfunded amount reported recently to be $174,000,000.  I hate to think what it will be in five years.

      Early estimates of next year’s budget is that we are $13,000,000 over budget.  This will most likely translate into significantly higher property taxes and the elimination of more social programs.  Over the last two years I have evolved from a quiet spectator, to a complainer at city meetings, to trying to offer a realistic albeit ambitious proposal to improve Evanston’s financial future.  This is what is represented in the proposal.

      I have researched several dozen performing arts facilities across the country and find that the highest quality facilities attract the best performers.  The best performers attract a wide range of visitors.  Ten’s of millions of dollars of revenue are created in the region immediately around "the best" performing arts venues.  That is one of the other goals of the proposal.

      A convention center sized to target small to medium size groups, without doubt, would be a financial windfall for Evanston.  Combining these two building types with a high end hotel, a new specialty restaurant or two, and the financial domino’s begin to fall in our favor.

      The lake was chosen as the site because it is by far the most magnificant location from which to showcase Evanston.  I could fill Bill Smith’s server with alternative shapes of the site that I have looked at.  The reason I selected the site shape in the proposal was only because it impacted the proposed "Lakefront Master Plan" least.

      The final shape, if this goes forward will be dictated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others who oversee the use of Lake Michigan.  I have written about this concept for a year.  No one seems to "see" it by only reading about it.  I gambled and put an illustration out there for people to react to, and they have.

      Thank you again, Francis.


      1. Compensation


        Should the lakefront project go forward, are you planning on having your firm or any related parties of your firm (or yourself) submit a bid to work as the architects or provide other goods or services for the project?  If so, what is the ballpark estimate of the total fees and other billings that would be charged by you, your firm, and related parties of yourself and your firm?  That is to say, what would be the approximate total financial benefit you would personally gain if this project were to be realized as you envision it?


        1. You have missed the entire point

          dp_witt, you have missed the entire point of my effort.  I am not spending my time, effort and personal expense so that some day I can profit from the experience.  Everything I have done is about volunteering my time in hopes that Evanston can prosper from my experience.  I am not doing this for personal profit.  I am not doing this for my firm to profit.  If you have a concept that has potential to stimulate economic development in Evanston, let’s hear it.  Thanks again,  Mike

  7. Traffic

    Exactly how would vehicles reach this proposed "5,000-car underground parking garage?" The nearby downtown area is already congested. We are currently in the process of choking Sheridan Road with additional stoplights. Mr. Vasilko’s plan states that "Sheridan road along the Evanston lake front would be improved." Does that mean extra lanes? I don’t see how this kind of density could be supported by our existing road infrastructure.

    1. Traffic


      Thank you for your comment.  I appreciate thoughtful constructive criticism.  This concept is very preliminary and if it goes further into the planning process, I can assure you a traffic study will be prepared to look at the projects’ impact along Sheridan Road and in the downtown area.

      I am not a traffic engineer so I can only offer my thoughts on the matter.  Regardless of any future new project, Sheridan Road needs to be improved now.  I have been stuck in Sheridan Road traffic during Northwestern and Loyola University graduations and other similar activities. So I realize a problem already exists.

      The improvements I wrote of may include some or all of the following:  Restricting or eliminating parking along Sheridan;  restricting truck traffic along Sheridan  to certain times of day; or possibly restricting Sheridan Road access only to local residentenes.  This would mean diverting other northbound traffic to northbound Ridge Road and Green Bay.

      I am not really in favor of trying to widen Sheridan Road.  Oak Park, Chicago and other cities have experimented with closing some roads in their downtown areas to imrpove the pedestrian experience.  These experiments have had mixed results, but may be worth trying in Evanston.  Make no mistake though, one of the underlying goals of the proposal is to bring visitors (with disposable income in tow), from near and far, to Evanston.

      Ideally much of this traffic would come via public transportation, and from O’Hare Airport, and not as much driving north or south on Sheridan Road.  Thanks again Kurt.


  8. Marina Plan

    Did everyone forget what happened the last time the city council considered this? Someone asked the city’s finance director if the city could afford $350,000 for the engineering study. She said "No" and that was the end of it. What has changed since then?

    I once knew someone who was a geologist. He said that when we add landfill to the lake, all of that displaced water has to go somewhere. It doesn’t just disappear. Ladnfill in Lake Michigan creates long-term problems to the south because it interrupts the flow of sand and silt. Why do you think areas along Chicago’s lake front and Indian’s lake shore had so many erosion problems?

    This is just a bad idea. The ocean front beaches in Santa Barbara have been almost destroyed by the marina. And if we’re going to bring the Burnham plan into this, let’s remember that the goal was to preserve lakefront land for use by ALL residents, not just the few who can afford to stay in expensive hotels and buy large motorboats.

    If the city council is  about funding future pension obligations, then they need to look at bringing the pension system into the 21st century by passing pension reforms and following the lead of the private sector.

    1. Thank you for your comments

      John A, thank you for your comments.

      I appreicate informed commentary.  This proposal has not been funded by the City of Evanston or anyone other than myself to date.  It seems you disagree with much about the proposal and if you have time, I would like to know what you agree with that is called for in the proposal.

      The underlying goal of the document is to build venues that will attract visitors from far and wide, who will come to dispose of their "disposable income" in Evanston.  Help me stream line the list to include activities that you think we can build in our town to attract more visitors.

      I do support comprehensive pension system reforms.  What we have now is simply sprialing out of control.  Thanks again,


      1. would the corps of engineers allow it?


        I admire your gentlemanly perserverance as the anona-mice gather to sting and bite, unfortunate traits of the species!

        Do you know if a marina could be built at all? I believe there was talk at one time of Loyola University creating a landfill and that got nixed. I think NU had plans to alter the lagoon and that had to get Corps approval – don’t know if it did or not.

        1. US Army Corps

          Clif, I spoke with a representative of the Corps a year ago and they are very willing to meet and help work out the correct shape and placement of a marina.  The Corps of engineers gave me no indication they would reject a marina.  In fact it was suggested I come in earlier than later so the plan could benefit from Corps Engineering knowledge.  That would make the approval process simpler. The hurdles related to the marina are political; local politicians who represent the privileged few who live along the lakefront.   There have been dozens of projects built in Lake Michigan most of which were built in Chicago.  Chicago is planning a land fill project at 67th street.  Gary Indiana has proposed a large residential project in and along the lake named for Michael Jackson.  There are no real construction or environmental issues that cannot be dealt with properly.  Its political.  Thanks for your comments,  Mike.


  9. Don’t squander our most rare resource–undeveloped lakeshore

    Hi all, I write this in the gravest spirit. I love the Evanston lakeshore because it is absolutely unique in the area; it is public and mostly undeveloped, trees, grass, plants, sand, and water located so close to a dense urban center, Chicago. It is a bit of undeveloped nature just north of the bustling city. In our modern world, undeveloped nature is the most precious of rarities. I am amazed at ideas being put forth to basically build a small city on landfill of of the undeveloped lakeshore area of Dawes Park. It would spoil the magnificent views of the lake, they kayaking and windsurfing, the other activities that take place there reveling in the undisturbed views of the lake. Residents of all of Evanston can come and enjoy nature. I hope this proposal for a new landfill and arts center is never fulfilled; can we not enjoy the undeveloped nature area that currently exists the likes of which are hard to find anywhere else in the Chicagoland area? Let’s not squander our most precious, public, undeveloped lakefront area. To raise revenue, here’s an idea; build the arts center in the less economically developed areas of Evanston–if world-class artists and performers come, this could help bring traffic and business to areas of Evanston that could use the economic boost. I think that would be more useful than developing the lakeshore i.e. "Look at our beautiful undeveloped lakeshore…oops, it’s as not beautiful and undeveloped anymore because there’s a huge new landfill island and arts center/small city blocking the view now, hope you enjoy the art and music now that you can’t enjoy your undeveloped nature area as much anymore…" State of the art facilities, located in a less economically developed area of Evanston, could still draw world-class arts and performers and benefit the surrounding neighborhoods, which could be a win-win. We should not degrade our natural lakeshore "resource" to raise city revenue…instead we should think about raising revenue with an arts center while simultaneously drawing economic development money and cultural traffic into less economically developed areas of Evanston by siting the arts center in such a neighborhood instead of in the middle of the lake on landfill.

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