The developers of the Sherman Plaza complex are moving ahead with plans for a new skyscraper across the street on the Fountain Square block that would double the height record for Evanston.

Evanston Community Development Director James Wolinski confirmed this morning that Focus Development Inc. and the Klutznick-Fisher Development Company submitted a request to the city this week for a zoning analysis on a proposed building at 708 Church St. that would be about 50 stories tall.

That would make it roughly twice as tall as the 277-foot, 1969-vintage, Chase Bank building at 1603 Orrington Ave. or the new 276-foot, 25-story Sherman Plaza building.

Mr. Wolinski said the development plans involve only the two-story 708 Church St. building, which also has frontage on Sherman and Orrington Avenues at the north end of the block, and not the three-story landmark Hahn Building at midblock, or the seven-story Fountain Square building at the south end of the block.

City officials have reportedly discussed with Tim Anderson of Focus Development the possibility of the developer providing funds to renovate the decaying city-owned fountain and plaza at the southern tip of the block as a public benefit to compensate for the substantial height requested for the tower.

Interim City Zoning Administrator Arlova Jackson said it would take about two weeks for the staff to complete the zoning analysis, and that the process of public meetings to review the plans would begin after that.

A call this morning to Mr. Anderson was not immediately returned.

The developers obtained a contract to purchase the 708 Church St. building earlier this year and word that the site was in play became public after retail and office tenants received notices from Farnsworth-Hill, Inc., the current management company, that they’d have to talk to Focus about any extension of their leases.

The building is one of more than 20 downtown structures that the city’s Preservation Commission has been considering for possible addition to the list of downtown landmarks. In a report presented at the Downtown Plan Committee meeting this morning, the building was rated as for the most part being in only fair condition — a lower rating than commissioners gave to most other properties on their list.

The commissioners noted that only one of the building’s 15 stores has its original storefront.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. When is a building “too tall?”
    While this is simply in the planning stages, I would like to offer up some questions (by no means exhaustive) on a 50 story building in downtown Evanston.

    • How does this building fit into the not yet defined “Downtown Plan” for the city? Should it be considered prior to approval of the Downtown Plan?
    • How would traffic be affected? (I know, the developers will hire a traffic expert to tell us that there will be little or no impact on traffic)
    • If 50 stories is acceptable in the downtown core, what is the acceptable height for the designated transition areas?
    • How will WIND and light be affected by a building twice the height of Sherman Plaza? (remember the times downtown was closed because of winds?)
    • With a nearly seven month supply of new condominiums on the market in Evanston, when do we say we have reached the appropriate density?

    While I agree that parts of that block need to be re-developed, I feel that there are many issues that should be addressed before jumping on the skyscraper bandwagon.

    1. Condo supply
      Hi Chris,
      You raise a lot of interesting questions.

      Let me offer a thought now on just the last one –condo supply.

      It strikes me that the supply issue is largely self-regulating. If condos in Evanston stop selling, banks will stop lending developers money to build more, and the oversupply will gradually melt away.

      Sure, that market-based regulation is not perfect — but I think it’s a lot more efficient than having government regulators who aren’t putting their own money at risk decide how much new housing should be built.

      And in a town where people are always complaining about the high cost of housing, condos represent the most affordable housing alternative for many people. Why shouldn’t we be happy to have an ample supply of condos moderating upward pressure on prices?

      Evanston has hardly any room for new detached single-family homes, and as a result the supply is much tighter and prices are much higher than for condos.

      So it appears condos (and townhomes) are the best way to make sure Evanston remains affordable for people with moderate incomes.

      Would you agree?


      1. City affects supply
        Bill – It would be nice if all the development here was not occurring without taxpayer support. But there are far too many TIF’s and sweetheart deals for developers. So the market may not be so pure. We taxpayers maybe subsidizing more of it than we realize for quick profits.

        1. Public subsidy
          Hi Junad,
          Public subsidy for development and who benefits from a subsidy is an interesting and complex topic.
          And I would agree with you that a strongly market-based approach to addressing the question of condo supply argues for minimizing public subsidies to condo construction.
          However, I don’t recall any developments approved within the past couple of years in Evanston that have received public subsidies — unless you define permissive zoning allowances specified in the zoning code as a subsidy.
          I think it is possible to consider those a subsidy, but they are specified as being granted in return for the developer building the type of structure the city has said in the zoning code that it prefers — one with enclosed parking or mixed uses, for example.
          They don’t involve any direct financial support of the project by the city and they typically result in greater tax revenue.
          I understand that when Evanston’s downtown revival was first getting underway, some agreements involved more substantial public support than that.
          But if we’re talking about what’s happening now — what do you mean by “sweetheart deals for developers” and what specific public subsidies are you talking about?
          And, by the way, what’s bad about a quick profit?
          — Bill

          1. comment on Public subsidy
            Bill – I see the TIF’s as public subsidies. Also the council is very good at hiding the subsidies. Do you recall they rebuilt the water main on chicago avenue. Do you think the large rental building in South Evanston by the CTA yard on Howard had adequate water supply with out rebuilding the line? I have also noticed they are enlarging water lines and having the developers pay the difference. All the street improvements and new traffic signals may be due to the development. I think there is quite a bit here. Interestingly enough most taxpayers think all this development is going to help them. think again, the city is robbing the TIF funds now to pay for operational costs, ofcourse they are claiming its all legal, who is going to stop them? That is they are now paying salaries of city employees from the TIF funds. Are they paying down capital costs? Do you know if on Monday night EVmark will be partial funded out of TIF funds?
            Bill the city has built these parking garges and allowed developers to rent out space instead of building the parking in thier projects – this is another form of subsidy that most taxpayers might miss. It cost alot to built garage parking. There are many give aways going on here, therefore it is likely taxes will keep on increasing.
            The council’s newest scheme would be a TIF for the Civic center – clearly this would be a huge give away for the taxpayers with no real benifit, they will continue to keep on misinforming everyone.

          2. You’re reaching…
            Hi Junad,
            Well, if you want to claim that every public works project in town is a giveaway to some developer, be my guest. But I don’t buy it.
            Sewers are being upgraded across the city to stop basement flooding.
            Hundred-year-old water mains need replacing.
            A forty-year-old paving job on Ridge Avenue needs to be redone.
            Those don’t sound like sweetheart deals for developers to me.
            I asked you to focus on the last couple of years — the parking garage deals are much older than that.
            And what do TIF bucks for EvMark have to do with building new condos?

          3. Bill – some additional thoughts
            Maybe you publish this, but I thought in the large development going on Emerson – they city pointed out the traffic signals were not adequate? The issue is we can always say something is old and needs replaced, versus the need to upgrade it for development. My feeling is the city is somewhat avoiding making the developers pay for real improvements and forcing them to fund affordable housing. Bill the problem with all this is one must go to endless meeting and check and double check every thing – since the council and staff are very careful not to explain many of the projects in detail.
            They will spend hours discussing bees or free beach tokens but pass a 2 million over run funding on the last parking garage with no discussion!

      2. Self Regulating Market

        I agree with most of your thoughts on condo supply. However, I have some problems with the idea that condos (downtown Evanston in particular) are the choice to keep housing affordable. My experience is that the condos in downtown Evanston are primarily upscale or luxury units. Maybe this is different for units outside of the downtown area. The main point of my post was that the officials who make the final decisions need to examine ALL of the issues before forever changing the landscape of the city of Evanston. The softening real estate market is only a small part of the issues that need to be examined.

        1. Downtown plan
          Hi Chris,
          Thanks for your reply.
          New story this morning about the downtown plan doesn’t answer your earlier question about what the new rules may be — but suggests we may be getting a little closer to some answers.
          — Bill

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