Evanston’s Economic Development Committee voted Thursday night to give several merchant groups grants of up to $9,000 each to help market their business districts.

But other groups had their plea for gifts turned back, at least temporarily, because of disputes over who should get the money and questions about whether paying for a party would be an appropriate use of city funds.

The Chicago-Dempster Merchants Association asked for $9,250 and the committee approved $9,000 for a variety of project including new plants for sidewalk planters, new banners, advertising and holiday decorations.

The Dr. Hill Business Association requested $9,763 and the committee approved $9,000 for new plants for sidewalk planters, maintenance of the Dr. Hill sculpture and a planned “dogs on parade” marketing event.

The Howard Street Business Association requested $9,000 and the committee approved $7,000 for new plants for sidewalk planters, new holiday lights and website development.

The Main Street Merchants Association requested $9,000 and the committee approved $7,300 for a merchant coupon book to be distributed in conjunction with the Custer Fair and for website maintenance.

And the West Village Business Association requested and was approved for $9,000 to produce a promotional booklet for the group, which includes merchants in the Dempster Plaza shopping center and ones in the area to the east around Florence Avenue and Greenleaf Street.

Requests from three of the groups for website development funds were trimmed by city staff, who concluded a coordinated approach by the merchant groups using a single vendor could substantially cut the price tag.

Action on requests from two groups of Central Street merchants — the Central Street Business Association and the Central Street East Business Association — were postponed until the committee’s Dec. 14 meeting while staff tries to work out an agreement on how to allocate money between them.

The groups had requested a combined total of over $17,000. Staff is recommending that the total grant for Central Street projects be limited to $9,000.

And action was postponed on a request for $8,130 from the West End Business Association, a group that represents wholesalers, service businesses and industrial firms in an area mainly south and west of the Dempster-Dodge intersection, after committee members criticized their plan to spend over $3,575 of the requested funds on a block party for members of the association and their employees.

Money for the grants comes from the city’s Great Merchants Grant program, which is part of the $175,000 Business District Improvement Fund within the Economic Development Fund.

The committee’s action is subject to approval by the full City Council, but with a majority of aldermen on the committee, the council’s approval is usually routine.

Top: A sidewalk planter of the type several merchant groups favor outside the office of Brella Productions at Simpson Street and Ashland Avenue in the Dr. Hill Business Association area.

Related document

Economic Development Committee packet with details of the business group proposals.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Re; Holiday Gifts

    Taxes get raised … Fees are raised ….. and money is given away for planters and lights $58k so far  ….. More deck chairs for the Titanic please …..

    1. Funny but true

      Your analysis is true and the punchline was funny. A thousand here and a thousand there, pretty soon we are talking real money.

      1. There is a bigger problem here than just wasting the money

        There is a much bigger problem here than just the waste of our money   There is no accountability or control that the money was used

        Wally went and hire more economic developement staff – they are looking for things to do.  You quickly see they are giving our money away. 

        I do not see a issue with the city going out and hiring a company to put up christmas lights and weaths in  a business district to help the merchants,  I have a much larger problem whent the give out $10,000 grants to people to do the work them selves, given it is Dec 3 it is almost too late to get any thing done, why wasn;t this done a few months ago?  I suspect the money will be misused,  with this type of management you open the door to thief of our tax dollars

        1. Specific examples please..

          I am not going to argue for or against this use of money because there is no clear specifics in this article as to what  funds these expenditures are appropriated.

          Ponzi is making some fairly serious charges of misappropriation of public funds. Of course as usual it is heavy on hyperbole and light on facts.

          I would like to know specific details and proof of mismanagement of taxpayer monies. Care to provide any Ponzi?

  2. Where does the money come from ?

    I hope the Council is giving these gifts out of their pockets—i.e. their wallets—instead of the taxpayers.

    Don't they ever understand where money comes from ?

    They pick the business or group they pick as 'winners' and leave other business and taxpayers to pay for it.  Some day we will find out what the quid pro quo is.

  3. South Branch Library closed

    South Branch Library closed to save money.  Lots of city employees laid off to save money.  Wally hired economic developers at much higher salaries, and they'll, of course, be loyal to him.  3-1-1 installed at huge expense, and it prevents access to city departments and doesn't act on calls.  If I were an alderman, I'd be worried about keeping my divine right; voters aren't stupid.

  4. Proof?


    RacerX  In the real world it takes time to get things done, the council has not even approved the money yet – this will have to get approved at the next council meeting, I believe the last meeting is December 14, monday night is a township meeting – so when will they beable to spend the money for the decorations? ( may be  a special meeting in there I missed )

     So when will they have the decorations up?  Mid December or later? 

    I could make the same point you make where is the proof they are using the money wisely?

    I would not be opposed to a well laid out plan, in the summer to decorate all the business districts for the holidays,  going out for bid, but this does not look like plan to me , but a hap-hazard effort, of staff to prove they are doing something.

     I was just on Central st. shopping on saturday – beyond the fact the street scape is falling apart and large number of trees dead – I saw no well organized decoration on the city part, it appeared individual merchants were doing what they could.

    1. Ponzi should stick to cartoons…

      Did you even read the full article Ponzi ,or where your so filled with rage at the thought of taxpayer money being used for anything other than what you approve of, that you couldn't comprehend the information contained in the article?

      Not every association was asking for grants for holiday spending, and not all funds requested where for holiday events.

      Main Street is asking for funds to help with a coupon book in conjuction with the Custer Street Fair. ( 7 months prior)

      Chicago/Dempster asking for a variety of uses of the funds, one specifically for holiday lights, the other uses seem to be general all-season upgrades.

      Howard Street asking for a variety of uses of the funds, one specifically for holiday lights, the other uses seem to be for general all-season upgrades.

      West Village looking for funds to help create a promotional booklet. Could or could not be specifically for the holiday. The article does not specify.

      And did you happen to notice the grants that were NOT approved because of cost savings issues observed by the committee? Even one that was not approved because it was going to be used for a block party? Doesn't sound like wasteful government spending to me and guess what…I'm a tax paying citizen as well.

      You are always so quick to criticize any form of spending in this city, try actually reading the information contained in an article next time before the crazy train departs.

      1. No rage

        I am not full of rage – do you really think a coupon book and promotional book are good uses of our money.  I go to the Custer Street fair but I do not see much value in the city giving them $9,000 for a coupon book.


        1. General misunderstanding of how economics works

          I agree with Ponzi here.    Why can the businesses not pay for these coupons, decorations and such themselves?    

            It seems ironic that the city has money to spend on decorations, parties, and coupons, but yet it can't fully finance libraries, medical clinics, and rec. centers.   Taxes will be up 11% in two years, and that's not even including all the extra fees.

          Where are the priorities of this city council?

          As for specific examples of how the city has mis-used our tax money.. How about any one of these examples..

          FInd me proof that any of these so-called "investments" resulted in an economic return, as this is what our alderman said that were for

          ..  and I stopped keeping track in july, so I'm sure there are at least 10 more examples by now.. This article above being just one..

          $325,000 to purchase vacant property on Howard Street in Anne Rainey's 8th ward district (with the intention of re-selling it to a theater company, but no money has been re-claimed yet.)

          $100,000 Grant for a feasibility study to discover if the old theater that sits vacant above the Gap building downtown can profitably be re-built.    There is still no theater in this space.  Nothing has been printed about it recently, and a private self-financed developer just proposed plans to create a theater where Tom Thumb now sits, in downtown Evanston.

          $20,000 Grant to developer at Main/Chicago to pay for portions of their marketing materials.  

          $41,450  Five buildings downtown Evanston  receive matching grants from city funds to beautify their exteriors

          $55,000 city grant (to match a federal grant of $220,000) to conduct a feasibility study on the development of a new EL stop location on the yellow line in Evanston, which is also in anne rainey's district.    This is only puzzling when one looks and sees that just two months prior, the CTA was thinking of shutting down two purple line stops due to limited funds and low ridership.

          $25,000 in  grants ($5,000  each) to these five business associations- Central street, Chicago-dempster,Dr. Hiill Business Association,Main Street Merchants, West End Business Association

          $11,500 to Hecky's BBQ to finance a new facade

          Furthermore, I recall several years ago the city giving a very large grant to form an African American history museum.  Now, I see that this space is for sale-  No history museum.. money gone.. I'd say that is mis-use of funds.


          1. What do you bet that—

            I bet the areas the $9,000 gifts are to be made are those of the aldermen esp. those with the most power.  After all that is the way they get votes.

            I wish we could require all aldermen to have to have taken a macro and micro-economics, financial accounting and cost accounting course within five years of running for office and re-take every five years of service.

            I'd add a course in constitutional law so they understood they cannot just tax and spend at will but most are lawyers and have long forgot that and even Congress does that. Also that they can't pass laws but ignore them themselves [cell phones when driving] but of course Congress does the same thing in exempting itself from laws e.g. insider trading as has been in the news.

            I'd add an ethics class but that would not do any good.

          2. Not lack of ethics, lack of economic understanding

            I don't think the local politicians are doing this because they are unethical.  For the most part, the city council members are really nice folks, who are doing what they think is right.

             I  think they spent money on the projects I listed because they just don't understand economics.   If you ask any one of them why they voted for these things, they will tell you "it was an investment."   If it was your money, and you were investing it, wouldn't you check in yearly or monthly to see how your investments were turning out for you?  Unfortunately, our politicians don't.   ONce the money is spent, the newspapers stop covering the story.   In a week or two, people don't even remember what was spent, and the people who get the money are happy. End of story.

            If you ask the merchants that receive the grants, they will tell you that they deserve them because the city takes so much in taxes and licensing fees.  The cost of doing business in Evanston is very high.   In a way, the grants are just providing a little money back to the owners of the shops.

            Many of our business areas include mom and pop shops, and I understand why they need the extra money. In hard times, some of them may just be breaking even, and they have families too. 

            However, what about all the businesses in Evanston that exist outside of the favored "retail areas."  For example, there are a whole bunch of family run businesses on Noyes Street- or what about all the shops that run along Dodge?    

             If the city really wants more economic development, and wants to help local business equally, perhaps they should make the cost of doing business in Evanston cheaper, for all businesses.

             This is what skokie has done.  I pulled this from their website:  

            "Cook County has a complex method of property taxation. For several decades, the County has used a disparate system of property assessment with significantly higher rates for business concerns than for residents. Additionally, the State of Illinois issues a multiplier to be applied against the assessed valuation to "equalize" it with assessment practices throughout the State relative to its percentage of fair market value. An "equalized assessed valuation", or EAV, is arrived at by the County and the State before local tax rates are applied.

            The Village of Skokie, elementary school district, high school district, Cook County, Skokie Park District (a separate governmental entity), Oakton Community College, Niles Township, and several other smaller taxing districts apply local tax rates. The Village of Skokie's tax rate only constitutes 7.70% of an average property tax bill. This percentage has been steadily dropping for many years, as the Village has been able to stabilize operational and service costs while increasingly seeking alternative means of revenue generation. Sales tax revenue is the single largest revenue source for the Village's General Fund. In fact, the Village has maintained or even reduced its property tax levy for every year since 1991 without any reduction in services. While the Village cannot affect most of a property tax bill, it has certainly reduced its own dependence on this source of revenue."





  5. So if I speculate on Evanston homes…

    This is a great program, I think. It opens up a few new marketing ideas for property speculators. For example, if I speculated on Evanston houses (a business enetrprise), could I get a grant from the city to paint/repair my property's facade? Could I get money to promote the sale of the property?

    Just curious as to where this all may lead.


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