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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Let’s jazz up Evanston’s lakefront

    Evanston’s lakefront needs some jazzing up. A marina and convention center are good ideas.

    A restaurant or two along with a performance arts center would be great.

    Evanston a few years back was able to get federal grant money to build a marina across from the cemetery on Sheridan, between Evanston and Rogers Park. But Evanston homeonwers on the lakefront as well as Roger Park activists organized and yelled the loudest – NOT IN MY BACKYARD!! The idea was nixed.

    I can’t believe Wynne, Fiske and Creamer voted against a harmless subcommittee to look further into the plan. Done right, it could be a money maker for the city, making Evanston more attractive for people to move here or just visit. If you increase demand, you increase property values and tax revenue.

    How many hard-hit broke suburbs would kill just to have a lakefront. Let’s take advantage.

  2. Lake front endeavor


    It is not a question of NIMBYism, but reality. Anything you do on the lake front will require years of diddling with a multitude of agencies. That will require legal manpower = $ and diversion from a few other major issues.

    BTW where is the money going to come from for the development? If you have not heard, there is a shortage of money at all levels of government.

    Will one of the public employee pension funds invest in it?

    Perhaps we can transport one of the many failed Las Vegas developments here.

  3. Is This a Joke?

     Colleen Burrus claims to be the best most fiscal conservative alderman, but is willing to sink $50 million in an unrealistic project.  The numbers proposed by Mike Vasilko are a fantasy.  If he is so committed to his project, he should pay for the independent studies to evaluate his proposal.  Let him pay for the feasibility study, the market analysis, the environment impact study, and a citizen opinion poll.  Instead our most fiscal conservative alderman Colleen Burrus is forcing the cost of this folly on the citizens of Evanston.  How much municipal staff time has been wasted on this?

    This is not a matter of progress versus preservation or nimbyism.  It is a matter of practical reality.  It is not a feasible project.

    I praise our elected officials that can recognize a delusion from a vision.  I question the agenda of those that do not.

      1. Have you reimburse the City?

        Have you reimburse the City for the staff time and resource wasted on responding to your questions and demands for information related to this idea?  

  4. lakefront development

    A well thought-out, well-financed comprehensive lake front plan that would include a performing arts center could be a fantastic development for Evanston. However given how hard the Sheridan Roaders fight ANY kind of new event on the lakefront I can’t see them swallowiing this one in a million years. And just what would the ecological impact be?  Quite stunning I imagine….

  5. Create Jobs not more structures-that already exist-for the few ?

    An Evanston architect has called "for performance space on lakefront."
    Another screwy idea.  Of course an architect would propose it—they want more business.
    NU has all kinds of facilities—why not rent them for additional performances—and already by the lake.  Or do residents just think they must boycott anything that NU has to offer.
    Instead of a facility that ‘might’ someday produce revenue, why not have Evanston try to bring in new business, manufacturing and technology that WILL produce revenue and jobs.  Why not use NU to join in cooperative efforts to bootstrap technology [IT, enviornmental research/consulting, etc. since the school of engineering is very large and highly ranked], business and consulting, marketing and other from Kellogg [VERY highly ranked] rather than pay much more for consulting firms outside of Evanston—many of whom will have only been out of Kellogg a year or two—the same probably applies to the school of education and school of engineering. 
    How many NU alumni leave Evanston because there are no jobs here for them or live in Evanston but have to work in the Loop.
    Why cut-off our face to spite our nose ?
Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.