The $2.5 million gift of land and cash to Evanston’s Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) that was announced Tuesday was many months in the making, sources close to the transaction told Evanston Now.

When philanthropist Jennifer Pritzker purchased the vacant property next to a barber shop at 1911 Church St. west of Dodge Avenue and began clearing the site last April, the idea was to develop the property into an office building that would be rented out to nonprofits serving Evanston’s youth.

The project was dubbed “Project Beacon” and was to be a youth learning center.

A previous plan of a real estate developer to create an office and retail complex on the site never got off the ground, and the property was eventually sold to Pritzker, whose Tawani Enterprises is noted for purchasing real estate in Evanston and Rogers Park and developing them into high-end properties.

Above: The property as it was being cleared last April. At top is the property as it looks today, across Church Street from ETHS.

One such plan, to purchase the crumbling historic Harley Clarke mansion at Lighthouse Park and develop it into a 57-room boutique hotel, was scuttled by the City Council a year ago after an intensive campaign by neighbors against the city’s selling off public park land.

As negotiations proceeded on the Church Street property, Y.O.U. officials were concerned that they would be unable to afford to rent space in a high-end office building of the calibre that Pritzker was proposing.

A win-win compromise was developed that amounted to a charitable contribution by Pritzker and the Lewis-Sebring family that would enable Y.O.U. to construct a building that would be under its ownership and control and could be constructed in a way that would maximize its ability to carry out its mission of serving youth in need.

When the announcement was made yesterday, the news release contained endorsements by prominent city and school officials, including Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, 5th Ward Ald. Delores Holmes, in whose ward the property lies, and Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

Mayor Tisdahl was quoted as saying “the generosity of Jennifer Pritzker and the Lewis-Sebring family is wonderful news for the young people Y.O.U. serves, wonderful news for the neighborhood, and wonderful news for the entire city.”

Ald. Homes was similarly supportive, saying “it is always heartwarming when there is an investment made in this part of our community. I am pleased and excited for Y.O.U. as they expand services for youth and families made possible by these generous donations.”

And Superintendent Witherspoon noted that “Y.O.U. is a core partner in ETHS’ efforts to realize equity and excellence. We are truly excited by the prospect of having Y.O.U.’s headquarters across the street, and grateful to the philanthropists who are helping to make this vision possible.”

With endorsements like these, and the sterling reputation of Y.O.U. as an agency that serves Evanston youth, it was thought unlikely that opposition would surface that could scuttle the project.

Earlier stories:

Project Beacon demo work under way

Retail-office plan for Church-Dodge

Aldermen to Pritzker:  Never mind

YOU gets $2.5 million for new headquarters

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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1 Comment

  1. Hope there is no more to the inside story here!
    Now that I hear public officials and school officials may have been involved aways worries me additional tax payer funds been promised?

    I think it great private individuals are supporting a charity in Evanston, using their own funds.

    Yet knowing our Mayor she can keep her hands off our tax dollars and would be quite willing to cut some deal on the side to use our money.

    As this evolves lets hope none of our money will be used. The recent example of use of city employees to build a patio for a private restaurant, and the entire process shows us a city whose staff and leadership are out of control, and are quite happy to misuse our tax dollars and fabricate a story to justify their actions!

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