Hope trumps fear on tower

Aldermen who voted Tuesday to approve the proposed 35-story tower on the Fountain Square block said they’re optimistic about the city’s future, while opponents voiced fears the city’s economy can’t absorb the new condo units.

"I’m a buyer in the stock of Evanston," Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said.

"We have great developers here and a beautiful product being offered to us," he added. "It will tell the world that Evanston is not only a great place now, but it will become even greater."

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, who opposed the project, said, "The idea of adding 218 units to an oversaturated market is unwise."

"I’m not seeing the prospects" for new development, Tisdahl said.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the city had little to lose and much to gain by approving the development.

"If we approve this project and the world turns as it has in the past," then it will work out fine, Rainey said. If the economy doesn’t recover, "then we’re all in trouble," she added, but nothing will change on the block — the existing building will still be there.

"If we don’t approve this and the economy does improve, we’re all going to be looking so foolish because we will have missed our opportunity," Rainey said.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she opposed the project and doesn’t see "sunny projections for the economy."

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he remembers how bad the block on the west side of Sherman Avenue between Church and Davis streets looked before developers Tim Anderson and James Klutznick built the Sherman Plaza development.

"Sherman Plaza turned out to look really nice," Jean-Baptiste said, "I think this developer can do a great job."

Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, said that a year ago she was ready to vote against the project, but the reduction in the building’s proposed site and exclusion of the landmark Hahn Building from the project had helped change her mind.

What’s now Sherman Plaza, "was a haven for criminal activity" with the decaying municipal garage, Hansen said. "People crossed the street to avoid it," she said. "What we have there now is a vast improvement to what we had before."

Some project opponents said they’d rather see a shorter building filled with office space on the site.

But, "no one is clamoring at the door of the Civic Center to build office space downtown," Hansen added.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, dismissed calls by some project opponents to delay a vote on the project until after the April election that will see at least four new aldermen seated on the council.

She noted that the project has been under consideration for nearly two years, and said, "I don’t think 23 months is an any way quick."

Tuesday’s 6-3 vote to approve the project came at a special meeting of the council’s Planning and Development Committee, which includes all nine aldermen.

Assuming none change their mind, the project appears headed to final approval by the City Council later this month.

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