Members of Evanston’s Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 Wednesday to create a subcommittee to take a closer look at ideas from a local architect for major development on the city’s waterfront.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, called architect Mike Vasilko’s plan for what he describes as a lakefront fine arts district, “a fabulous concept.” She said it reminded her of the Sydney, Australia, harbor with its opera house.
The opera house and harbor in Sydney Australia. (Wikimedia Commons photo.)
The vote came over the objections of two aldermen who represent lakefront wards — Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward.
“I know we have aldermen who are absolutely opposed to anything on the lakefront,” Burrus said.
But she added that the city needs to think outside the box and beyond what’s always been done.
Addressing Vasilko, she said, “Thank you for being a visionary. Even if you get knocked down, please keep popping back up.”
Vasilko’s fine arts district concept also includes plans for a marina and a convention center as part of the development. And Burrus said the city needs better convention facilities.
“We can’t host a real convention here now,” she said. “I’m chairing a conference next June — bringing in several thousand people. It can’t be done here. We don’t have the space — the hotel space or the meeting space.”
Wynne, who was chairing the meeting, said she favored focusing attention on efforts to revive the Varsity Theatre downtown as a performing arts space and said the city lacked the staff resources to research the feasibility of Vasilko’s ideas.
She also argued that other performing arts centers — like the one in Skokie — have been money losers for their towns.
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, suggested postponing the discussion to a later meeting, but Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she believed the proposal “is of such huge proportion that it doesn’t fit into our meeting as an agenda item any longer.”
“I’m thinking that if there are aldermen on the committee or the council that are interested in exploring this vision further, there should be a subcommittee that meets aside from this committee,” Rainey added.
She said it could be an ad-hoc committee with no staff. “I don’t know if I support this plan,” Rainey said, “but I don’t want to reject it out of hand.”
Wynne said the idea was “a waste of time,” but Alderman Jane Grover said she agreed that it was a good idea to explore the proposal further.
Vasilko presented a scaled-down version of his proposal at the meeting and claimed a convention center capable of hosting events for up to 4,000 people would guarantee annual tax revenue to the city of tens-of-millions of dollars and that a marina for 260 boats would provide $2.6 million in annual revenue for the city.
In addition to Fiske and Wynne, Robert Creamer, the Zoning Board of Appeals representative to the EDC, voted against establishing the subcommittee. Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, was holding a ward meeting Wednesday night and missed the EDC session.