Paul Zalmezak, Evanston’s economic development manager, told 1st Ward residents Thursday night that the ballroom at the Orrington Hotel is scheduled to reopen July 1.

The interior of the second-floor ballroom, Zalmezak said, had been severely damaged by water leaking through the roof while the hotel, at 1710 Orrington Ave., was in financial distress during the pandemic. It had to be stripped down to the studs for renovation, he said.

Paul Zalmezak.

Having it back in operation “will be a nice addition” to downtown venues for weddings and other events, Zalmezak added.

With post-pandemic office and retail vacancies still impairing the desirability of downtown, Steve Rogin said his project to renovate the Varsity Theater building — one of the few projects now underway to bring more residents downtown — is likely to be completed in 14 to 16 months.

A rendering of what the Varsity Theater building would look like after renovation into a mixed-use retail and residential development.

The building, at 1706-1710 Sherman Ave., is scheduled to have 35 apartments on upper floors and revitalized retail space on the ground level.

The only downtown residential project currently seeking city approval, the 15-story Merion Legacy development, at 1621 Chicago Ave., is scheduled to be reviewed by the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee on June 26.

Robert Froetscher.

One of the project’s foes, Optima Towers resident Robert Froetscher, spoke to the meeting at the invitation of Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) to outline his reasons for opposing the 140-unit development — including its height and density.

Zalmezak said the city is working to address rat control problems along the Sherman Avenue side of the Sherman Plaza development.

He said the ownership of the retail shops in the plaza is responsible for maintaining the irrigation system, lights and electrical system in the planter boxes along the block.

Once those repairs are completed, Zalmezak said, the city will install “a new kind of mesh that rats haven’t figured out to penetrate yet” to try to keep the critters from setting up housekeeping in the planters.

Zalmezak conceded that “the landscape beds look terrible now.”

He said the Clean Team contract workers hired by the city to clean up local business districts will power wash sidewalks downtown starting next week.

And he said new tables and chairs will be added soon at the Arrington Lagoon on the lakefront as the city works to upgrade kitchen facilities at the fieldhouse there in hopes of having a new concessionaire at the park in the not-too-distant future.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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