About 75 people met at Lincoln School in Evanston Thursday night to discuss preliminary plans for a nine-story office building planned for the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Main Street.

Top: A preliminary rendering of what the new building might look like at night. Above: Alderman Wynne answers a question as project leasing agent Drew Nieman looks on.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, traced the history of the site, from the 1920s vintage two-story office and retail building called “The Main” that once stood there, through complex efforts to build a condominum apartment building on the property that ultimately collapsed in the recession.

Wynne said that with the condo market in the deep freeze, developers had recently come to the city proposing either a single-story drug store with a drive-through or an apartment building for the site.

The meeting was moved to the school’s library because power hadn’t yet been restored to its auditorium after Tuesday’s storm.

But she said the “great new economic development team” at the city had concluded that the best use for the site would be a mix of retail and office uses.

Wynne said an office development “would be a catalyst for all of south Evanston.”

“We’ve seen what the movie theater development — with the 909 Davis St. office building — did for downtown,” Wynne said, “It sparked so many jobs in Evanston and brought so much life back to the city.”

The developers for the project, John O’Donnell and Greg Merdinger, are both former long-time employees of the John Buck Company, a major Chicago developer that best known locally for the Park Evanston rental apartment tower downtown.

Developer John O’Donnell.

O’Donnell said the building would be designed to attract growing high-tech companies that are looking for a location with convenient mass transit access.

He said the preliminary design calls for 65 parking spaces on the lower level, double-height retail space at the ground level, two floors of above-ground parking and about 80,000 square feet of office space on the five office floors over the parking deck.

A schematic drawing showing the planned layout of the building.

The underground parking, which would be entered from the alley, would be for office tenants, while the above-ground parking, totalling 138 spaces, would be entered from Chicago Avenue at the south end of the site.

That parking, O’Donnell said, would be open to the public and, under current plans, would be managed by the city.

One resident asked whether the parking would be sufficient for a building that might have as many as 500 office tenants.

Wynne said that the parking requirements were set by the city’s zoning ordinance. And both the developers and some other residents suggested that the convenient access to the CTA and Metra would encourage most people working in the offices to use public transportation rather than driving.

An aerial view of the proposed office building site.

Unlike many projects built during the last decade, this building won’t be constructed unless tenants are already signed up to rent the space.

Another John Buck Company alumnus, Drew Nieman, now with Colliers International, has the job of finding those tenants.

Nieman said that Evanston is a small market for office space, but that it is the healthiest of all the suburban markets.

Drew Nieman of Colliers International.

“There are seven buildings in Evanston that we would construe as competition for this project, and four of them are almost completely leased — with vacancy rates of less than two percent,” he said.

The other three, have vacancy rates around 20 percent — but there are reasons for it — either they are older buildings that are just tired and need to have money spent for retrofitting, or they once had lake views that they no longer have because of more recent construction nearby.

“So this planned new building, with its location, has all the basics for success, and I didn’t even mention the Starbucks across the street,” Nieman added.

Architect Don Copper.

Project architect Don Copper of GREC Architects in Chicago said the building design features a four foot setback from the property line to provide more sidewalk space for pedestrian as well as setbacks at upper levels to provide better views from the offices.

One resident claimed the building couldn’t possibly be energy efficient with the planned large glass area, but the developers said that with recent improvmenets in glass technology it was entirely possble to do a glass-sheathed building and win LEED certification.

Another resident said she loved being able to walk her dog on the current vacant lot and wondered if dog walking space could be included in the building’s plans. Alderman Wynne suggested that the city already has a dog beach and parks available for dog walking.

But others praised the proposal and the developers got applause from the group as the meeting ended.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Nice architecture

    I cannot believe someone's comment that they want the developer to include a place to walk their dog.  What craziness!  It takes a lot of nerve to admit that they are currently using someone else's private property for that purpose now. 

    Looking at this proposal, it is a very good thing that the previous plans for the site fell through.  This building is so much more attractive and will make a nice addition to that corner.

    1. Historic empty field at Chicago & Main

      "I cannot believe someone's comment that they want the developer to include a place to walk their dog.  What craziness!  It takes a lot of nerve to admit that they are currently using someone else's private property for that purpose now."


      I knew this would happen.  The anti-development people see an empty lot ( like the former Kendall campus, or the site of the Evanston theaters) and then they claim it as their own.  I am sure that some people will oppose any development at any of these three sites –  even though just a few years ago they all were fairly busy places.

      1. Setting aside the dog comment

        Setting aside the dog comment for a second… 1) open space tends to increase surrounding property values. this monstrosity will leave not a scrap. 2) big ambitious projects like this can turn into white elephants. Is the city on the hook in any way for this? These developers must understand the business climate here. Thankfully somebody had the sense to mandate signed tenants, prior to breaking ground.

        1. This space is perfect for

          This space is perfect for denser development given the extreme proximity to the CTA train and bus stop and Metra station.  If we are interested in the best and greenest use of space in our town this is exactly where we should build.

        2. Open space and property values

          " open space tends to increase surrounding property values. this monstrosity will leave not a scrap."

          So the neighbors of the open space should all get together and purchase it, leave it as an open space, and enjoy their increased property values….while continuing to pay taxes on the fair market value of that open space.

          Or perhaps the city could purchase it and turn it into a park.  Neighboring lots, whose property value would be increased, would of course have their assessments increased.

          The same could be done at Central & Eastwood and the old Kendall lot.

          Is this what you had in mind?  Enquiring minds want to know.

        3. Again

          Why don't we let the Mighty Twig have the lot, so we can all pay for it. Better yet, just give away the property since I guess to some, this should just be another ENTITLEMENT. I bet you have an Obama sticker on the back of your Volvo and or Suburu.

          1. Clarification – The Mighty Twig

            The Mighty Twig is funded by donations and staffed by volunteers. No one is paying for it other than those who have voluntarily made contributions of money or time.

          2. The Mighty Twig?

            Dan, I am confused by your reference to The Mighty Twig, specifically if you are supportive of what it is trying to do or not.  It is run strictly by volunteers and paid for through donations, and it seems to benefit all of South Evanston (or at least those who utilize basic library-type services)  Isn't that a good thing?  I apologize if I misinterpreted the point you were trying to make…  Could you clarify for me please?  Thanks!  -Cheryl

          3. While I appreciate the volunteer effort

            It is this misconception "…and it seems to benefit all of South Evanston (or at least those who utilize basic library-type services)" that I would like to address.  Thus far, there are NO library services offered to the southern and western parts of South Evanston, unless the library brings mobile services here.  The "library friends" continue to make this assertion without offering any evidence that it is true.

            This assertion takes money (and volunteers) away from outreach programs that might actually reach people who can't get to the physical libraries we now have.  Fixed-location branch libraries are an inadequate and expensive outreach solution.

  2. We should be kissing their behinds….

    In the wake of what Obama has done to me and to our economy, we should be amazed and grateful that someone, that anyone, is willing to invest in new commercial real estate construction in our town. Don't let them get away!

  3. I’m glad something useful is going up, but…

    Do we, or the business community, really benefit from double height retail on the ground level?  Seems it will stand in sharp and awkward contrast to all of the single height store fronts that it will be butting up against.  Anyone have any insight on this and why double height is a better option for the location it's going into ?

    1. Ridiculous

      Luke, Are you kidding me?

      Sure, another Evanstonian questioning economic development.

      I bet you are a liberal. What a joke.

  4. Main/Chicago

    Unfortunately Alderman Wynne is again wrong headed about the utility and development potential of this space.   She was CERTAIN four years ago that the condo would go up.  I remember this conversation at Starbucks vividly because I was certain that condo….which she assured me was fully funded, would happen.  She is AGAIN wrong about the utilization of this space.  A NINE story building at a busy intersection where the streets are not configured for active egress is foolish.  Imagine southbound left turns into the public parking off of Chicago.   And where will a LARGE loading dock be located to accommodate the building's BUSINESS deliveries?  Remember what TYPE of businesses have yet to be determined.  Downtown office space is available.  Office space in THIS area is available (right NEXT door as a matter of fact).  NINE STORIES!!! That will make a lovely CANYON effect at Main/Chicago.  Kedzie/Chicago has a much larger and accessible location only steps further from public transportation.

    Alderman Wynne and Evanston allowed this parcel to be demolished and the resulting loss in tax income.  The old Baskins is still vacant downtown.  There will soon be more.   A glossy presentation may obscure her vision but is not impressive to those of us who live here.

    When you get businesses to commit moving to Evanston terrific.  However, businesses are currently FLEEING Illinois thanks to the income and business tax raises.  Ill conceived pipe dreams do nothing to develop Evanston.   Worse, it presents an illusion of activity much like the mythical downtown tower (oh yeah by the way, will businesses want this location or the "TOWER" should THAT pipe dream happen.)  And what happens when the tower becomes half vacant five years down the line and in foreclosure.  Who will pick up that tab?  Who is going to WIDEN the streets for the additional traffic and how and where can that widening occur?

    Development is good.  Common sense is better. 

    1. One more site probably years away from anything

      Each time I hear about plans for buildings I remember years ago when the city forced out the merchants on the northwest side of Kedzie/Chicago and Custer around Reba.  Then it was years before anything was done with the property. From what I hear they did the same with the Salvation Army/Pony Shop, etc..

      Recall what they did with Dave's Italian Kitchen and had to make payments to them to compensate for their lost revenue—while nothing was being done with surrounding property.  Also giving Borders $10,000 for their move to Maple—and they did not even ask for it.

      From what I recall the Kendall property would have been developed long ago but the Council, as always, listened to a few home owners in the area who I'm sure would never approve anything. These are the same ones who, despite having the higher value homes, got exempted from the Historic District—while NU dorms were included !

    2. “A NINE story building at a

      "A NINE story building at a busy intersection where the streets are not configured for active egress is foolish."


      So nine-story buildings don't belong at busy intersections?

      Then maybe we should revise the code so that nine story buildings can be constructed in better locations – like quiet residential neighborhoods.  Maybe the old Kendall lot could use a 9 story building.

  5. I support the building

    If the developer is able to line up the tenants necessary to secure the financing for the construction without the contribution of any taxpayer dollars, then I fully support this project.

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