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Downtown Evanston, the tax-supported non-profit marketing organization, plans new events and activities for next year as it gears up for a vote on whether to renew its lease on life in 2019.

Executive Director Annie Coakley told board members and residents at the group’s public board meeting Thursday afternoon that the new events will begin with a “Show the Love” shopping and dining event on the day before Valentines Day, and that the group also plans to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant for public art.

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Other plans include holding a Wednesday daytime farmers market downtown and trying to develop a program, similar to one now used at Loyola University in Chicago, that would let Northwestern University students buy meals at downtown restaurants using their university meal plan cards.

She also said the group is working with the city to create a parklet on Grove Street and exploring borrowing an idea from other communities that have recycled obsolete parking meters as “donation stations” at which shoppers could deposit coins to support groups dealing with issues of homelessness, as an alternative to giving cash to panhandlers.

Board members and residents at the meeting, held in the Crystal Ballroom at The Merion.

Board Chair Chris Mailing said the board has also voted to schedule more public meetings next year.

Coakley said the board is also considering revising its bylaws to develop subcommittees for restaurant owners, retail merchants and downtown residents.

She said the group also anticipates splitting its current contract for maintenance and landscaping work downtown into two separate contracts — to attract bidders that are specialists in each of those services.

The group recently launched a new design for its website and Coakley says new banners will be going up on street light poles starting next week.

She said the organization will be holding more stakeholder meetings after the holiday season to get feedback on how to improve its performance as it prepares for the scheduled vote in 2019 on renewing the special downtown taxing district that provides most of its funds.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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