Evanston’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday recommended City Council approval of funding for four major projects.
Three of the grants would be paid for from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds:
Northlight Theatre would receive $2 million toward its $25 million project to relocate from Skokie to a new theater to be built at 1012-16 Church St. downtown.
The AUX, a proposed hub for mainly Black-owned businesses, would receive $1 million toward the projected $7.3 million cost of redeveloping its proposed site at 2223 Washington St.
And ASPIRE, the Evanston Community Healthcare Workforce Development Program, would receive $200,000 to match support from NorthShore University HealthSystem.
Funding for the fourth project, the proposed relocation of Whole and Free Foods to the former DARD Products property at 910-938 Custer Ave., would receive $1.69 million from the Chicago-Main Tax Increment Financing District toward the estimated $12.8 million cost of that project.
The Northlight project is the culmination of a more than decade-long effort to create a downtown performing arts center in Evanston.
Northlight Executive Director Tim Evans said the new building would be active seven days a week and would create over 115 full-time equivalent jobs and provide a pipeline to a broad range of career opportunities.
He said it would generate $56 million in new spending in Evanston in its first five years of operation along with $450,000 in city tax revenue.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) cast the only vote against the Northlight project, saying it wasn’t a good investment for the city — that the city could make more money than the yield in new tax revenue just investing the funds in the market.
Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) voted for all the proposals at the committee meeting, but said he wouldn’t be ready to support them at City Council until the city develops a clear set of priorities for spending ARPA money.
Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said the percentage of city funding for The AUX project seemed too high — at nearly 14% of the total project — compared to an ask of the city from Northlight of 8% of that project’s budget.
She suggested she’d be inclined to reduce the support level at Council to $500,000 — but voted in favor of the full request at Wednesday’s committee meeting.
Trish Thomas of Whole and Free Foods, said the factory to produce snack foods suitable for people with a variety of food allergies would create 30 to 50 new jobs in Evanston.
More than 70% of the firm’s workers are persons of color, Thomas said, and half of its outside capital comes from women and 44% from investors of color.
She said the larger factory site would let the business increase sales from $2 million to $20 million a year and that the high-tech machinery used would open up the opportunity to provide higher-paying jobs.