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City staff told Evanston aldermen Monday night that they’ve tentatively set aside $2.6 million for a project that would renovate Fountain Square downtown and repave a block of Sherman Avenue adjacent to the square.

The funds would come from the Washington National tax increment financing district. That TIF district, Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons says, has a balance of about $6 million now and is scheduled to close in 2018.

Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said the city has already approved a contract not to exceed $20,000 with Teska Associates of Evanston to conduct a visioning study for the project this fall.

Assuming the City Council approves the results of that study, Robinson said, design work for the project would be conducted next year, with construction in 2016.

Landscape architect Jodi Mariano.

Jodi Mariano, a principal with Teska Associates, said the community input process, which will involve closing off Orrington Avenue for a few days next month, will try to draw out residents to offer ideas on what they’d like to see at the site.

Teska, she said, has been working in Evanston since the 1990s.

The visioning process, she said, will be designed to “generate lots of excitement and find patterns and threads that can generate concepts for the project.”

The Teska report will provide conceptual-level documents using three-dimensional visualization techniques. “It will just be ideas, not cost figures,” Mariano added.

Alderman Coleen Burrus.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, complained that spending $2.6 million on the square, “a very small area, looks financially irresponsible.”

She suggested splitting out the costs of the street repaving project and proposed that there should be private fundraising efforts to cover part of the project’s cost.

Robinson said she had had some preliminary discussions with Alderman Judy Fiske, whose 1st Ward includes the plaza, and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl about fundrasing.

“Once we have a design and cost estimates,” Robinson said, “We can consider what additional funding may be needed.”

Robinson noted that a separate project to resurface the block of Orrington Avenue between Church and Davis Streets is budgeted at $600,000 for the resurfacing with another $250,000 for streetscape work.

That suggests that subtracting the paving work on Sherman, the plaza part of the Fountain Square project has a ballpark cost estimate of roughly $2 million.

Robinson said the current fountain, built in 1976, has deteriorating walls, basins, seating and pavement.

The pump that drives the water jets is failing and the fountain lighting is inoperatble, she added.

The square serves a variety of purposes — from hosting veterans ceremonies, holiday tree lightings and political gatherings — as well as being an informal gathering place.

And Robinson says there are concerns about trying to separate the ceremonial and casual activites as well as accessibility and the limited capacity of the square for crowds.

In addition, the square often feels difficult for pedestrians to access because of heavy traffic flows all around it.

Robinson says project goals include reducing the automobile dominance in the area, separating ceremonial and casnual activities and creating a flexible environment suitable for year-round use.

Alderman Judy Fiske.

Fiske said the visioning project would be “a wonderful opportunity to get the public engaged.”

“This is a conversation we haven’t had in Evanston for probably 40 years on how we want our downtown to work,” she added.

Related story

City to consider revamp of Fountain Square

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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8 Comments

  1. You can’t ‘committee’ public design

    First, if the design is great, the spend is justified. The concrete and stone park today is an eyesore and hurts what is a very public area.

    But the "visioning process" is complete nonsense. Daniel Burnham didn't conduct a visioning process when he designed Chicago's lakefront. He relied on great design.

    You can't "committee" public design unless your objective is failure. Hire a great firm. Or, ask several great firms to compete in a design competition. And then choose the best design. Don't put it to a public referendum; make a decision.

  2. Public money to fund public spaces?

    This makes perfect sense to me. I hope the effect is to reduce traffic downtown, encourage pedestrians and start to focus attention downtown.

    If additional funding is needed, then I would start with going to those fortunate businesses that have received funding from the city (grants, favorable loans). Starting with the owners of the Five Guys building restaurant (we gave them $20K for their facade) and the variety of businesses on Howard Street, Chicken and Waffles house, etc. I'd also hit up the owner of the new building on Oak Street.

    1. Spend more on security

      I would rather see Evanston spend $2 million plus on greater security for its residents as well as more employment and recreational opportunities for youth at risk.

       

  3. Get rid of the fountain

    If 2 million dollars is available (which I doubt) it could be better used to meet the needs of residents of Evanston.  The traditional events that occur at Fountain Square are not dependent on the fountain, but the square.  Perhaps when the fountain is in such disrepair that it becomes a hazard, the fountain should be eliminated and the gathering space retained.

  4. Incorporate solar power and wind turbines

    This area needs to be developed desparately. Get a modern thinking design firm, not some commitee mash up. Let some with forward ideas take Evanston forward. There is a company which creates solar light ground pavers that heat up, light up, and keep snow away. That have an ability to create lit display on the ground!! Imagine Christmas or other events marked by lighting of this sort. This kind of idea would make people use the Fountain as a must see area…Incorporate some solar and wind turbines..make it fun and green. Let's make this a focal point of a great city with great people and entertainment!!

     

     

    1. Make it a solar furnace

      To keep the 'Greens' of the city happy, make it a solar furnace with collectors focused on a large container of liquid [I think oil is the current one] and generate all the electricity the city needs ?

  5. Pedestrian overpass?

    I would like to suggest adding a pedestrian overpass for easy access to the fountain.

  6. Spending $2 million would be criminal

    Traffic patterns, which I can't see being changed without huge disruption, irreversibly marginalize this space as well as the patch of green just south of it. Keep it as it is or get rid of the fountain and add some benches and maintain it decently, but don't spend $2 million. That's criminal. 

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