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Manager defends Trader Joe’s aid plan

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Evanston's city manager says incentives the city has developed for the planned Trader Joe's on Chicago Avenue represent a better deal for city taxpayers than approaches used in the past.

1223-25 Chicago Ave.

Evanston's city manager says incentives the city has developed for the planned Trader Joe's on Chicago Avenue represent a better deal for city taxpayers than approaches used in the past.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told Evanston Now, "I think it makes a lot more sense" to have the city buy a parking lot for the development "than to gift a developer with a sales tax rebate, which is a more common approach for a project like this."

"This way we're retaining the asset — the parking lot — and have flexibility and control over the use of that asset forever," Bobkiewicz added.

At least one alderman has privately expressed concerns about the terms of the arrangement — and the fact that while the city's $1.4 million purchase price for the lot at 1223-25 Chicago Ave. was specified in the ordinance introduced Monday night — terms for what the city will receive from Trader Joe's for leasing the lot to the grocery chain weren't disclosed.

Bobkiewicz said he would have more information about that — and about plans for the city to acquire an adjoining old house owned by Northwestern University at 1229 Chicago Ave. to expand the planned parking lot — in time for next Monday's City Council meeting, when the purchase is scheduled for final approval.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said that if the Trader Joe's project were to fall through, the city should be able to earn between $30,000 and $60,000 a year in revenue from parking on the two properties.

Lyons said those projections assume leasing 50 spaces at $50 a month for 24-hour permit parking at the low end, and a combination of overnight leased parking and short-term meter parking at the high end.

"In Evanston parking is at enough of a premium that using the lot for parking would allow the city to recoup the purchase price over the long haul, or cover the carrying cost of the property until it was sold," Lyons added.

The money planned to be used to purchase the lot is now in the city's parking fund reserve, which Bobkiewicz said is earning only about 0.75 percent interest, or about $10,500 a year.

The Trader Joe's store is planned to be built on the site of the former Blockbuster video store at 1211 Chicago Ave.

The plans call for building the new store at the south end of that property, covering the existing Blockbuster parking lot with the new building.

In buying the 1223-25 Chicago Ave. building, the city will be assuming a contract to purchase the property that was negotiated by the developer of the Trader Joe's building with the current owner of the land. The purchase price is about 7 percent lower than the assessed value of the building.

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