Evanston’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday postponed a vote on plans for a big new sign at the Hilton Garden Inn downtown.

The vote was postponed to give staff time to see whether city money requested by the hotel’s owners to cover half the cost of the sign could be taken from a different account.

But some committee members also voiced concerns about the size of the sign and whether the city should pick up any of the tab for the project.

Even if the EDC eventually approves funding for the project, the plan would still require approval of the city’s Sign Review Committee and the full City Council.

Top: A rendering showing how the proposed blade sign might look attached to the hotel’s Maple Avenue facade. Above: The streetscape today, also looking south on Maple.

The hotel currently has a sign over its entry canopy, and two more along its roofline at the northeast corner of the building.

But committee members seemed to agree that the hotel is still hard to spot for visitors arriving in town and driving up or down Maple Avenue.

City staff proposed that the city provide $18,500 for the project — half of its estimated total cost. Staff proposed funding the grant from the Economic Development Fund account, but Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested it might better be paid for from funds left over from the recently closed tax increment financing district that included the hotel site.

EDC member Seth Freeman said the proposed sign is way too large. “People could see it from Noyes Street” — seven blocks to the north, Freeman claimed. “The sign is out of place for Evanston.”

Alderman Melissa Wynne said she agreed completely that the hotel needs more prominent signage, but suggested the proposed design looked to generic. “I think it should look more elegant,” Wynne said.

Wynne, who’s also head of the city’s parking committee, said she also wanted to make sure the sign didn’t obscure the sign marking the entrance to the city’s Maple Avenue parking garage, just south of the hotel.

Earlier this week, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Lori Keenan, a branch library activist, criticized the sign project, asking why the city would spend scarce resources to help the Hilton chain, which is owned by The Blackstone Group, a private equity firm with over $18 billion in assets.

But the hotel’s general manager, David Steiner, said the hotel is only a Hilton franchisee, and the property is owned by Inland Real Estate, a much smaller firm. Inland recently reported 2010 revenues of $44 million.

Steiner works for Alliance Hospitality Management, which was hired by Inland to run the hotel.

Asked whether the hotel would go ahead with the signage change even if the city didn’t fund the project, Steiner said the hotel has many other capital needs — including renovation of its guest rooms — and probably couldn’t get to the sign project for five or ten years on its own.

Nancy Radzevich, the city’s economic development manager, noted in a memo to the committee that the city has an interest in encouraging high occupancy rates at local hotels — because the city’s hotel tax generates more than $1 million a year in revenue to the city.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Do not approve that sign

    that is one awful looking sign and it detracts from what little streetscape there is there.  This sign should NOT be approved!  It would set a terrible precedent for other awful looking signs around Evanston.


  2. Sign of the times

    It seems as if certain residents of Evanston always get riled up about any changes that are proposed in the city. Whether it is a tall building, or a revenue generating business, or a sign that some business wants. We do not live in some kind of utopia and these businesses that choose to locate here, are in serious competition with other nearby municipalities. If you look at the picture, you will see that just to the left, is the rather large sign of the Century theater. Why is that one okay and the proposed one not?

  3. Why are we paying for this?

    Why is city money being used to pay for 1/2 of this sign? The Hilton is a business… a big business, too, not a small business, and it's for-profit. Even if the building does need better signage, why is the city spending money?

  4. City-subsidized advertising?

    Why should the city pay one cent for the private hotel sign!?!?!  A sign is part of the cost of running a hotel.  Or at least one that hopes to get customers.

  5. No tax-payer $ for Hilton Garden Inn’s Sign

    The only comment that can be made here is that our city should not be paying for any portion of this sign.  $18 or $18,000 – Nada.  We could find much better ways to spend $18,000 than on a sign.

    1. More Council Give-aways

      If the Council would spend more time on reducing the budget, lowering taxes, getting off the backs of business with meaningless regulations that serve no purpose, etc. and less time figuring out how to give away taxpayer's money [they should remember it is NOT THEIR money] maybe we would not have such a hard time getting/keeping businesses in Evanston. 

  6. Magic sign?

    "Nancy Radzevich, the city's economic development manager, noted in a memo to the committee that the city has an interest in encouraging high occupancy rates at local hotels — because the city's hotel tax generates more than $1 million a year in revenue to the city."

    I seriously doubt that a larger sign would increase occupancy.

    $44 million in assets still could probably fully fund the sign.  We have better uses for out money

  7. Visual polution concerns

    I agree that the business should pay the total cost of the sign not the city.  The city should enforce it's sign ordinance on the books.  We DO have one don't we?!

  8. I love reading the comments

    I love reading the comments on this site. One day people blast the City for not being business-friendly, the next day people blast the City for spending a little money- $18.5k is pocket change in the City budget- to help businesses. Pure comedy.

    1. Pocket Change

      Sure, $18K is pocket change in a city with a budget the size of ours.  But that does not mean we need to be foolhardy in the manner in which we spend our "pocket change."  $18K here, another $20K there, a few additional small projects and suddenly those expenditures are costing the taxpayers quite a bit of pocket change.  As for helping out businesses… I'm sure there are large numbers of bankers and Wall Street employees who would be too happy to use a similar argument when comparing their requested handouts to the size of the overall US budget.

      1. Ridiculous analogy

        We're talking about the City contributing half the cost of a sign to help a hotel get better viability. That doesn't compare to giving or loaning (depending on your perspective) money to Wall Street because a bunch of people blew a gaping hole in the financial sector. Let's not get carried away here.

        1. Opinions are like….

          …well you know.  I won't tread on your right to throw words like ridiculous and phrases such as pocket-change around in your stated opinion.   

          My opinion differs.  No matter the dollar amount, helping any for-profit corporation isn't high on the list of priorities with the current budget crisis we face.  Splitting hairs by applying references such as pocket change to ANY expenditure is nothing more than an attempt to obscure the point. 

  9. Crazy

    No!! The city should not pay for this sign.  It'll bankrupt the city even more because if the city does this, then why shouldn't the city pay for all business signs.

  10. signage flap

    The core issue:

    What is the rate of return on our $18,000 investment?

    How long before we recoup the $18,000 and begin profiting?


    The aesthetics of the sign should be handled by existing ordinances.


    The advisability of hanging a sign to increase business is not for Evanston

    to decide. That is the decision of the hotel, regardless who it's owner is. 


    If we (Evanston) stand to make money off of our investment in a reasonable

    period of time, and the rate of return is satisfactory, then we (Evanston) should

    move forward. 

    If we (Evanston) deem that the investment is insecure (will not secure our capital

    and provide a secure rate of  return, then we (Evanston) simply do not do the deal. 



    1. Calling all businesses, esp. tech. start-ups

      So I guess this is a good time for all firms that would like to advertize themselves, to ask the city for [taxpayer] money. 

      I would esp. encourage all start-ups [esp. tech] who would otherwise move from Evanston when their time at the 'incubator' is up, due to high taxes and rental costs.  Maybe a gift from the city will help us to not lose another Larry Page [Google co-founder] as we did—-how many more ? 

  11. Hourly Rates?

    I understand that the City has an interest in encouraging high occupancy at the hotel, but presumably they don't advertise hourly rates, which would be the sort of customer who would be wandering down the street and impulsively decide to stay simply because they saw the sign, right?

    Let's use logic here. People find hotels over the internet, they use GPS systems in their cars to find out of town hotel locations based on addresses. The idea that having this sign will encourage more commerce at the hotel, and therefore any more taxes for the City is ludicrous.  This isn't a Point of Purchase decision. Yes, the sign may make it easier for guests to FIND the hotel while driving down the street, once they have already booked a room, but it will not make their decision to stay there or not. People do not forgo their reservation if they can't find the hotel.  If the Economic Development committee thinks that's how purchasing decisions are made then that's an even more worrying scenario for Evanston. 

    $18 thousand dollars of tax revenue would go a long way towards providing library services for the West Side of Evanston, which would in turn help early readers become better students, which could help the gap, etc., etc. In my mind that has much more value and is more in line with the community's priorities. Plus, numerous studies have shown that every dollar spent on libraries returns between $6 – $9 back into the local economy. Private businesses can pay for their own signage. Heck, we had to host lemonade sales to pay for public libraries, why would we give $18k away? And, if we have it to give, then let's put it back to efforts that directly benefit the citizens of our community in a measurable way. 

    1. Provide reference

      Lori Keenan wrote:

      "Plus, numerous studies have shown that every dollar spent on libraries returns between $6 – $9 back into the local economy. "

      Can you provide  references to these studies?  I would like to read these studies and enquire further.

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