The Evanston City Council tonight is scheduled to approve plans to sell a vacant city-owned building at 1817 Church St. to a cooperative composed of small local construction firms.

The Evanston North Shore Contractors Cooperative proposes to turn the building into a center for offices for its 13 member firms and an incubator for the building trades.

The space would also include a home design center and workshop and offices for related businesses. And the contractor’s group proposes to offer apprenticeship training as part of the project.

The city has owned the building, which once housed an animal hospital, since 1976.

City officials say that under city ownership the building has served as a neighborhood center, housed social service agencies and served as a police outpost.

But it was sold in 2001 to a neighborhood group that planned to turn it into an African-American history center. That project was never completed, and in 2007 the city reclaimed the property.

The new proposal from the contractor’s group, headed by John Leineweber, has won approval from the city’s Housing and Community Development Act Committee and the Economic Development Committee, which includes a majority of the aldermen.

The proposal will require the city to repay the federal government $220,000 to partially reimburse it for federal Community and Economic Development Grant funds used for the failed history museum project. Those funds potentially can be returned to the city for other projects at a later date.

It also calls for the city to loan $200,000 to the contractor’s group to help fund rehabilitation of the building.

The contractors say they will put $130,000 toward the rehab work themselves, mostly in the form of sweat equity.

And they claim that once they own the building and it’s returned to the tax roles, the building should generate $12,000 to $15,000 annually in real estate taxes.

The money for the construction loan and the repayment to the federal government would come from the West Evanston tax increment financing district.

The agreement includes penalty provisions calling for the coop to make payments to the city if it fails to complete the rehab work within 12 months, to repay the interest-free loan from the city within 30 months and to continue to operate the cooperative from the property for at least five years.

Top: 1817 Church St. during a city-sponsored tour of the property last year.

Related document

1817 Church proposal

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. derelict city buildings

    This is good news.  I just wish that we could do something about that derelict city-owned property at 2100 Ridge, which is beyond repair.  

  2. How we got where we are?

    I think that selling this building is a good thing.  But once again, it is not clear that the economics of the sale make sense for the City of Evanston taxpayers.

    The City will need to repay $220,000 to the federal government that the failed history museum was given with no museum provided in return.  Will the city pursue those who were given these funds but did not complete their task?  Exactly where did $220,000 go?

    Then the City will loan $200,000 to this group.  What if the loan is not repaid — is there collateral securing the loan?  Perhaps a mortgage on the building?  I certainly hope so when the group buying the building is investing primarily "sweat equity" but no cash.  You can see what happened with many home loans when the borrower invested no cash — it's easier for the borrower to walk away from the building as they have less money invested in it.

    If the City (read: taxpayers) needs to foot the entire $420,000, it will take 28 years to recoup that money with expected real estate taxes of $15,000 per year to the City.  Again, maybe this is the best deal that we can get for this clunker of a building.  But are taxpayers protected being protected?  Shouldn't the City pursue those who took $220,000 from the City and shouldn't the City have the security of holding mortgage on the building if the loan from the City is not repaid? 

  3. Creative usage

    Nice to see a creative solution to this issue.

    Seems like a much better use than a museum that was suspect from the start.

    Kudos to Mr. Leineweber and his group for coming up with a sensible proposal for the City and the neighborhood. Something that should have been thought through from the beginning instead of wasting time and money on 'feel good' projects that go nowhere.

    Now if we could only recoup the money that was wasted by the neighborhood museum group.

    Also wondering if the museum group was bound by the same agreement provisions as the contractors group?

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