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.
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.