Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, suggested Tuesday night that the city should cut the price it’s asking for sale of the library parking lot to make a shorter office building economically feasible there.

Miller, who joined six other aldermen in a 7-0 vote to approve the current $5 million price tag at a City Council meeting in July, told residents at Tuesday’s 1st Ward meeting that the council vote “unfairly tied our hands.”

“We may have to go back to the drawing board to come up with a project that is economically feasible and acceptable to the public,” added Miller, who’s one of four candidates running for mayor in next April’s election.

The current development proposal from Conor Commercial calls for a 14-story building on the 27,000-square-foot site.

Given the city’s price tag, and the demand that the developer also provide 74 spaces for public parking in the building to replace those now on the surface parking lot at 1714-20 Chicago Ave., it’s difficult to see how the aldermen, experienced in reviewing development proposals in the city, could have expected to get proposals for a building much shorter than that.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who also voted in July to seek redevelopment of the site as an office building, said she was uncomfortable with Conor’s proposed designs for the building and suggested the city set up a website where residents could submit their own sketches for what they’d like to see it look like.

Noting that the properties on both sides of the lot are historic buildings owned by women’s groups, she suggested that the new building should have a gallery devoted to women’s history on the ground floor with “a beautiful garden” to connect with the neighboring Frances Willard and Woman’s Club of Evanston properties.

While the parking lot is less than 400 feet from the 24-story Park Evanston apartment building at 1630 Chicago Ave., most of the 50-or-so residents at Tuesday’s ward meeting chose to focus their gaze only on its immediate two- and three-story neighbors — and sounded familiar objections to height.

Lori Osborne.

Lori Osborne of the Evanston History Center said the lot used to have Victorian homes like those on the Willard property

“Are we looking at a short-term gain when we should be thinking long term?” Osborne asked.

She suggested the city could probably bring in the tax revenue and growth an office building might generate if it instead focused on historic heritage tourism, arguing that Evanston doesn’t do nearly as well on that front as west suburban Oak Park.

Elizabeth and Patrick Breslin.

Patrick Breslin, co-owner with his wife Elizabeth of the Celtic Knot Pub nearby on Church Street, voiced fears about loss of parking while the new building is under construction.

“We can’t survive a year-and-a-half without parking,” Breslin said.

City officials have promised that replacement parking would be available during the construction period. The city currently leases a block of 50 spaces in the nearby Church Street garage to Northwestern University under an agreement that runs out next May, and Fiske insisted on the short term for that lease in anticipation of potential development of the library lot. 

Brian Quigley.

Brian Quigley, executive vice president of Conor, said there hasn’t been an office tower built in Evanston in a generation, and that he’s talked to a dozen high-tech companies that are very interested in staying and growing in the city but can’t find buildings with the type of space they want.

“Evanston is a terrific location that’s under-served for office space,” Quigley added.

Quigley said the development team plans to hold additional meetings with the neighboring property owners. 

And Fiske, noting that the City Council has set creation of more jobs in Evanston as a top priority, said the question is how to “bring all of this together and make it work.”

She said she hoped to have another ward meeting in mid-January to continue the discussion of the project.

The project will also have to go through the city’s planned development review process. That’s likely to take six to nine months, Community Development Director Mark Muenzer said — and it hasn’t even begun.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Miller Time Strikes Again

    Brian (Trump) Miller strikes again…  It is one thing to change one's mind, but is quite another to lose one's mind.  Undercutting the City's negotiating position to score cheap political points for his mayoral campaign shows his careless desperation to say or do anything to win, just like The Donald.  Bike lights, now this, when will Miller time strike next?

    1. Agreed!

      Ah, yes. Alderman Miller running his mouth again. Politics before common sense. Note that Ald. Miller is running for mayor, as several other people are. This is one way to get noticed. And not favorably.

    2. Why not double the price and
      Why not double the price and require even more parking. If Conor can’t make a go of it surely the big purple endowment down the street will put them out of their misery in a midnight deal, recall 1800 Sherman. Perhaps that is the real plan. It is a rigged system, after all.

      1. Sale to NFP
        Deal being negotiated would bar sale to a tax exempt entity. There’s dickering now about the duration of such a ban.

        — Bill

    3. Occupying valuable real estate

      I'm not sure who came up with it, but consider the irony if it backfires. By (innaccurately) labeling him as Trump, you could be helping him win. Trump won in large part because people who hated him couldn't get him out of their heads.

      Additionally, the comparison is an ad hominem attack that lacks substance. There's plenty of governing history of his that could be brought up to criticize him, which would raise the level of discourse and keep this about the issues instead of egos.

  2. Miller

    Miller appears to me to be the best member of the city council. He is not a quid pro quo alderman like the other 8. He doesn't appear to be someone who'll vote for your special prodject if you'll vote for his. Another council member, who left several years ago, told me about the deal making that goes on behind closed doors. You only get more "chicken and waffles" by sticking more money into the repeatedly failed theater on Howard.

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