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.
FIne and Performing Arts District Proposal (.pdf)