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Dueling referenda on Civic Center

Evanston aldermen Monday voted to place a Civic Center referendum question on the April ballot that they hope will kill support for a competing petition-backed referendum that urges retention of the current city hall.

Evanston aldermen Monday voted to place a Civic Center referendum question on the April ballot that they hope will kill support for a competing petition-backed referendum that urges retention of the current city hall.

But in a curious episode, Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, the head of the City Council's Civic Center Committee, had to amend the referendum proposal on the council floor after it turned out he wasn't aware of a city consultant's latest estimate of the rehab costs.

Ald. Bernstein initially proposed that the referendum ask whether the city should fund the rehabilitation of the Civic Center with not less than $20 million in general obligation bonds.

But after city staff produced a year-old cost estimate for the project from a consultant, he raised the cost figure to $31 million.

The aldermen have voted unanimously in the past to seek a new home for city government, contending they have no funds to rehab the existing building, but can come up with a financing plan for the new building involving selling the old site to a developer and creating a tax increment financing district that would fund a new building without increasing taxes.

However, despite many months of secret meetings, they have failed to close a deal on a site for a new building.

The Friends of the Civic Center organization, which organized the petition drive, contends that Evanston's existing city hall can be rehabilitated for as little as $7 million. They've also expressed doubts about the financial feasiblity of the council's scheme to create a new building without raising taxes.

John Kennedy, an organizer of the group, says, "I think this is actually a good move in that it now forces each alderperson to campaign for their referendum and defend a locked in amount for renovation and rehab. It also forces them to engage on the question when they could have merely ignored us."

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