Downtown covers less than four percent of Evanston’s land area, but houses more than 10 percent of its residents, generates over 21 percent of its sales tax revenue and provides the workplace for 31 percent of its private-sector jobs.

Glum residents
Some Evanstonians aren’t pleased with downtown development.

All those figures are up over the last several years, and a new study of the downtown real estate market discussed at a Plan Commission hearing this week says there’s market demand for more downtown growth in all three categories.


That may explain why city officials, scrambling to cure a structural budget deficit and faced with this week’s downgrade of the city’s bond rating, are more eager to continue downtown development than the folks who show up at hearings to complain about it.

Without the addition of an estimated 1,934 new residents downtown this decade, Evanston’s population would have declined by an estimated 630 residents — at a sizable cost to the city’s tax base.

Population trend

Manufacturing jobs in Evanston, located outside downtown’s boundaries, have continued to shrink — down 50 percent since 2000 to just 1,261 jobs, according to the Illinois Bureau of Employment Security.

Meanwhile jobs in some industries likely to locate downtown — including food service, health care, information and real estate — have increased enough to offset losses in areas like retail trade, finance and insurance.

And, taxable retail sales have increased 25 percent in downtown Evanston over the past six years, while growing only 5 percent in the rest of the city.

Linda Goodman
Linda Goodman presents the retail market study results at the hearing.

City consultant Linda Goodman said the Goodman Williams Group study of Evanston’s downtown market showed demand over the next 10 years for up to 2,000 new housing units, up to 100,000 square feet of new office space and as much as 120,000 square feet of new retail space.

Overall, she said, the value of the new construction could be as much as $856 million. The property tax on that amount of new construction could cover as much as 9 percent of the city’s current tax levy.

In addition, the study reports that, as housing prices have risen in recent years, condo units — the bulk of the new construction downtown — remain far more affordable than single family homes in Evanston.

The median price of an Evanston condo in 2006 was just half the median price of a detached single family home.

The full downtown market study is available here.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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