With offices still half empty as the pandemic-triggered work-from-home trend persists, many communities hope to strengthen downtown business districts by encouraging more people to live there.

But Evanston’s chances to revive its downtown with a burst of new residential construction activity appear fairly weak at the moment.

As the chart above indicates, the number of new rental housing units delivered each year over the past decade has varied widely. But it’s worked out to an average of about 220 rental housing units per year.

This year 235 new apartments are under construction in five developments that may potentially be finished by the end of the year. But only two projects, with 65 units, are located downtown.

The city has approved 298 new apartments in three developments that have not yet gotten underway. If construction on those starts very soon they might be completed in 2024.

But two of those developments were approved a long time ago, and it’s not clear when, if ever, they will actually break ground. More than half of those units are proposed for downtown.

Then there are five more projects that have been proposed but are still undergoing city review. If they win approval — a big if at this point — they likely won’t be completed until 2025 at the earliest.

Only one of those projects is proposed for downtown — The Legacy, a 140-unit, 15-story building at 1621 Chicago Ave. It is scheduled for a hearing before the Land Use Commission Wednesday evening.

Under the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance all of the new developments are required to include affordable units.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Downtown is so dead. It saddens me to think that I moved to Evanston 15 years ago to be in a community that had a combination of an urban and suburban vibe.

    Unfortunately, the people running this city are more concerned with bag bans, topless beaches and fair work weeks. Evanston could be so much more interesting and fun if we just incentivized businesses to come here and thrive here.

    Go to Highwood on any weekend and restaurant after restaurant is packed. Multiple bars actually have live music every single weekend. It makes Evanston look like we’re stuck in the 1800’s. I even hear that restaurants that were considering Evanston have started to look beyond towards Wilmette. What a travesty!

  2. I agree wirh Achilles. We never eat out in Evanston anymore. The downtown is dead and full of panhandlers who are also getting free room & board at the Margerita Inn. I’ve lived here 25 years and it has continued to go downhill—more highrises and midrises and fewer necessities and amenities in walking distance. There used to be both a Dominicks and a Whole Foods on the southeast side of Evanston so residents could walk to do their groceries, etc. Dominicks became a condo development, and Whole Foods turned into a block long liquor store, perfect walking distance for the residents of Margerita Inn to walk to after a day of panhandling and before turning in for the night. This city is in trouble.

  3. Evanston’s downtown is suffering because of poor leadership. The mayor is a far-left democrat that is more interested in padding his “woke” resume in order to set up his next political position.

    What has he done, and what does he support? Defunding of the police, equity over equality, higher property taxes and parking fees, more homeless shelters, requirements that businesses accept cash, requirements that businesses can’t use plastic bags, and rules as to how businesses can set work schedules. Every day more and more panhandlers, addicts, and drunks shoplift, walk our streets, park themselves outside our businesses looking for money, and frighten some of our customers.

    All too many of the mayor’s initiatives are rubber-stamped by the city council. Is there not a common sense leader among them?

    A broader reason for Evanston’s decline is that many members of the city staff and the city manager do not live in Evanston. There are no requirements that they live in Evanston, but it would be nice to know that the bed they are making they too have to lie in.

  4. Many great points made in these first three comments.


    Elected officials and City staff don’t understand how dire our situation is because they don’t live it nor choose to enhance their awareness by spending time downtown.

    Business owners of all types are skipping Evanston for Skokie, Wilmette, and beyond.

    Our current “leadership “ has no experience, no vision, only works with like-minded constituents, and looks at everything through the lens of nebulous “equity” even when it makes absolutely no sense.

    Finally, Evanston can build all of the downtown apartments it wants but if anyone does their homework before moving here, they will likely choose to live somewhere else that is more safe, cleaner and more vibrant. It is apparent that our many current renters and condo dwellers downtown are spending their money elsewhere.

    “We’ve lost our mojo”

    1. Hi JR,
      Regarding your claim about people fleeing downtown apartments, you should be aware that reported occupancy rates for downtown’s most expensive apartments currently range from 94% to 100%. (That’s from the Market Study for the 1621 Chicago project in Wednesday night’s Land Use Commission packet.)
      — Bill

        1. The 1621 Chicago project was declined (again). Evanston is not business-friendly, it is not developer-friendly.

          In our current economic state — a national recession is predicted — when a developer comes to you with a project the answer needs to be YES!

  5. Our City Council has forgotten they were elected to represent us, not dictate to us. I recommend that our Mayor look up the definitions of “Fascism” and “Populism”. There is a razor-thin line between them and it’s clear what direction he and his Council Cronies are headed. Shame on them!

  6. I “just wanna say”…. I used to read this and other online Evanston news and judged our council members by summaries of the meetings. But a year ago I began to watch the meetings in full whenever possible. I can disagree with any of the members on one issue or another but have come to admire each as well for being quite courteous to each other and for being very well prepared to express what they want and why. I am quite worried about our town. I believe big mistakes are being made. But intelligent people are on these boards… I sometimes have wished more alderpersons besides Clare Kelly or Evelyn Revelle were willing to speak up against projects that are very expensive, unnecessary, or that seem to be a done deal before the meetings begin. I do not always agree with them either… but costs matter, and what neighbors want matters. And so many of our council seem not to care.

  7. Besides the panhandling problems, I still think one of the largest problems is the parking meters. I do not have a parking meter ap because I do NOT want to give a unknown entity two credit cards’ information and also pay a service fee for getting to use the ap to pay. When I was going to my RE lawyer’s office on Central St., the only option to pay the meter was via mobil ap, with an arrow to the pay station north of Central, but it was nowhere to be found. Mobile was the only option, except Bank of America across the street let me park my car in their lot for an hour, especially since it was raining. This lawyer is considering moving several blocks north to Wilmette since too many of his out of town customers have complained about parking fines.
    Northlight Theater is moving here in another year. So many people are not planning to renew subscriptions due to the difficulty of parking, climbing over snow banks sometimes, finding pay stations, having an Evanston parking ap and not realizing our meters go until 9:00.It’s free, in garage adjacent to the theater in Skokie plus a free lot attached to the theater building with lots of handicapped parking. Many patrons are seniors who find parallel parking difficult and also walking more than 2 blocks from a parking spot. The one-way streets around the new theater location can be confusing to an out of towner.
    Evanston managed to contribute $2 million for this relocation. I shall miss this theater, but at least Northwestern offers some excellent options with relatively easy, non-parallel, free parking.

  8. Downtown desperately needs more housing. The available stock is full, and our retail and restaurants need additional foot traffic to support them. Evanston has excellent walkability—one of the most critical metrics for attracting new residents. But Evanston’s council needs to start doing the things which foster a vibrant downtown: reduce and slow automobile traffic, get the traffic signals out of our downtown, raise the crosswalks, and increase housing density. Ridge needs to be slowed further (with infrastructure, not signage) so that blighting scar no longer creates a barrier between our residents and our downtown. These no secret recipe—but there are well-known and time-tested solutions that our council is not implementing.

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