A funny thing has happened to the value of parking lots in Evanston.

Last year the City Council sold a 17,000 square foot parking lot in the 700 block of Chicago Avenue to AMLI Residential for a new apartment complex for $770,000 — or about $45 a square foot.

This week the City Council voted to buy a two lots in the 1200 block of Chicago Avenue totalling about 19,000 square feet to become a parking lot for the proposed Trader Joe’s for $2 million — or about $105 a square foot.

Somewhere in that $1.2 million spread would appear to be an amount that Evanston taxpayers are spending to facilitate these two projects.

Don’t get me wrong. I think both projects are fine additions to the city that will substantially improve our tax base. Given the competition among towns to land new development, Evanstonians shouldn’t expect that we are so special that we can completely avoid playing the development incentives game.

And yes, no two real estate parcels are exactly the same, and their surroundings and zoning may give them dramatically different values.

But there’s something beneath us about all the handwaving that goes on among officials to try to persuade us that a subsidy isn’t really a subsidy.

And there’s a need to be more transparent with the public about the true cost of subsidies and a need to present them in ways that make apples-to-apples comparisons possible among projects.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons may be technically correct as an accounting matter when he asserts that the city will be able to carry the newly acquired Trader Joe’s lot on its book for the $2 million it’s paying plus the $500,000 the developer will pay to demolish the existing buildings and turn the property into a parking lot.

But there’s no way any rational buyer would pay the city $2.5 million for those lots, which will be subject to a 70-year license to the Trader Joe’s developer, and which stand to earn the city a puny $10,000 or so a year in off-hours permit parking revenue.

We gave the developers a subsidy. Let’s figure out a straight-forward way of determining how big it was.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. As a real estate agent

    As a real estate agent in Evanston I'm thinking around $800,000. That busted up two flat might be worth $300,000.

  2. Kinda looks like the city paid too much

    I agree with this assessment.

    AMLI intially contracted with the city to buy the parking lot for $900,000. But for some unknown reason the sale never closed and apparently the parking lot was not put on the open market afterward.  AMLI came back three years later and bought the parking lot for $770,0000. At the time, an appraiser was hired to value the lot.

    The question here is did the city hire an appraiser for the parking lots in the Trader Joe's sale? These lots are comparable, both on Chicago Avenue, less than one mile apart. The AMLI lot was sold last year and the market is better this year. But is the Trader Joe's lot worth $1.2 million more than the AMLI lot?  Has the market improved that much?

    What basis did the city value the land when it agreed to buy the two lots on 1200 Chicago? That's the important question.

    1. Use change


      Part of the price difference is accounted for by the fact that the properties being acquired for Trader Joe's parking lot had existing viable uses on them — a house and a retail store — which both have to be demolished to make way for a parking lot which will generate far less revenue.

      And the sellers were apparently not eager to unload the properties, so they wanted top dollar.

      Given that, the purchase prices may not have been unfair.

      My point deals with what the properties are actually worth to the city as an asset after the buildings have been demolished and the land paved over for parking, given that the developer will have near total use of it for 70 years for a rather nominal one-time $50,000 license fee.

      The difference between that value and what the city actually paid is the subsidy to the developer.

      — Bill

  3. Same thing everybody

    has been saying. Council listens to Wally but not to the people. Does Wally rule the city? Does he think the people are dumber than those in California?

    I think we need a new city manager. No wonder  Wally wants to raise property taxes. He needs the money to pay for his mistakes and those of the council.

    1. From original Wally Supporter

      I was a big supporter of Wally when he started.  It looked like he would clean things up and give us a meaningfull budget and stop the dumb projects and expenditures—or at least present a well reasoned argument to the Council of why they should get back in line with reality—and if not heard resign in protest.

      It rurned out he has failed to fight the Council and more and more supported if not proposed [or at least not opposed] the Council throwing money out the door.  Given the recent proposals it is clear he does not have a grasp on economics [or budgets] and will pay anything that is asked for property.

      Time to go !

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