Promises from developer Robert King to seek a grocery tenant for ground-floor retail space enabled him to win City Council approval Monday of his proposed 14-story mixed-use rental apartment building at 1890 Maple Ave.

1890 Maple plan

A rendering looking north on Maple. The building approved Monday is on the left with the red awnings.

The developer showed aldermen a letter of intent from the Trader Joe’s chain to take the space, and agreed, if that deal falls through, to aggressively pursue other grocery operaters for the site.

With that, Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, announced she had switched her position to support the plan, and the project, which had been tabled for months for the lack of a sixth supporting vote, was approved, despite objections from opponents that they’d been blindsided by the switch.

Ald. Wollin said that she realizes the grocery isn’t a certainty, but said if one does materialize it would be a great advantage to many downtown residents who lack cars.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she had serious doubts about the viability of the site for a grocery — given its constrained urban space and parking atypical for a supermarket.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she’d learned during her two-year campaign to bring a grocery to the former Osco drug store site at Asbury Avenue and Oakton Street that many grocers that are not chains are interested in coming to Evanston.

Ald. Rainey and other city officials have been frustrated by Trader Joe’s previous rejection of Evanston sites, including the former Osco store, and she suggested she’s not very confident it will actually end up being the grocery tenant at 1890 Maple.

She praised Ald. Wollin and Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, for working out the grocery agreement with the developer.

Of Ald. Wollin, she said, “Her leadership on this showed a lot of courage. It’s not always easy to change your mind. I’m very impressed with her work on this.”

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said, “People are playing fast and loose with our process here. I’m offended by it. Maybe certain people were privy to this thing that came up tonight, but I didn’t know about it.”

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, responded that “those who have been inflexible about the project have not been involved in the discussions. Those who are flexible have been trying to see if we can get the benefits” of the project’s new rental housing for the community.

Ald. Moran’s motion to postpone a vote failed for lack of a second, with Ald. Wynne noting that she could count and saw that the 1890 Maple proposal now had the votes to pass.

Ald. Holmes said, “We’re not banking on Trader Joe’s, but we need a grocery store in the area. This is right across the street from my ward, and it’s something we need.”

Aldermen Moran and Wynne said they believe the project is too large for the site and that the council had erred in approving the 18-story 1881 Oak Ave. condo tower adjacent to it.

Ald. Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, said she doubted a grocery would ultimately locate there, that parking would be a huge issue, and that she still believed that a vote on the project should wait until after the downtown planning process is complete.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said she supports the project because the city needs additional rental housing to replace units lost to condo conversion.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said he favored the project without the grocery plan and that the grocery would be a good amenity for the community.

While the amended agreement with the developer calls for efforts to bring a grocery store to the site, it also contains a ten-year ban on locating a convenience store on the premises.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Trader Joe’s
    Trader Joe’s is a great retailer. 1890 Maple is a great site for development. An easy double play.

  2. Well, there obviously needs
    Well, there obviously needs to be decent parking if there is going to be a grocery there, but I would welcome a Trader Joe’s.

    1. Trader Joes Parking
      Just by way of comparison:
      The Whole Foods in downtown Evanston is about 24,000 SF and has approximately 80 off-street parking spaces.
      A typical suburban Whole Foods is 40-50,000 SF and requires 200-250 parking spaces, yet the smaller Evanston store footprint with minimal parking (creatively placed on the roof) has been very successful.
      A typical Trader Joe’s store is between 10,000-12,000 SF. Assuming they could be successful with a similar parking ratio as Whole Foods (and a good argument could be made that they could do fine with even less, especially with ample on-street parking), they’d need between 33-40 off-street parking spaces. Also, keep in mind that Trader Joe’s is not a typical grocery store where people go in and load up with a weeks worth of groceries, so it’s plausible that many people might even walk (gasp) or ride their bikes to this store, rather than drive.

  3. 1890 Maple
    Blind-siding seems to be what some on our City Council do best. When the topic of 1890 Maple was last discussed at a City Council meeting, it became clear that there were enough votes to defeat the project. Seeing this, Alderman Rainey moved that it be tabled until early November when the consultants would be prepared to deliver their final recommendations. Suddenly the issue is addressed in September (so much for hearing from the consultants) after talks that excluded even some aldermen, not to mention the neighbors and the larger community. Refusing to include those who were “inflexible” is just code for “let’s not listen to the other side of the issue”. What a democratic way to operate. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

    To fall for the developer dangling the carrot of Trader Joe’s is fool hearty. There is no commitment. Do they really think that Trader Joe’s will find this location tenable? It is far LESS desirable than any of the other locations that Trader Joe’s considered (and rejected) in Evanston.

    Those of us who live near the sight know that the two King buildings will turn their ugly backs on downtown Evanston (of which they are not a part), will cause traffic tie-ups that will be a terrible burden on all of us (including prospective residents of the new structures), and will negatively impact their neighbors to the North by violating the city’s own transitional zoning.

    Is anyone in City Hall or in Mr. King’s office reading economic reports or forecasts regarding housing and lending? Where are all those buyers and renters coming from? There are already more than 500 condos for sale in Evanston, not including any of the new buildings going up. And does anyone believe the target market of empty-nesters and students are going to pay the high rent the developer wants?

    With our own City Council selling our town to anyone who comes along, we can only hope that the developer himself will see the folly of his plan before it’s too late. There are plenty of Evanston residents who do not welcome him.

  4. choices
    The Shaw company who designed 1890 Maple
    was also the mastermind behind Lake Point Towers in Chicago,the United Nations Building in New York
    along with a portfolio that is world class. The marketing potential for the city of Evanston
    by having a building of that caliber in this city would have been a huge benefit.
    In the coming decade health care and the needs of a denser population as well as an aging society is heading toward a crisis. I worked to help the council
    see the reason and logic to save this building
    and turn it into a professional medical/dental complex but some Alderman chose a different path. It’s unfortunate.

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