City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says Northwestern University is playing an important role in efforts to bring a Trader Joe’s grocery store to Evanston.

The NU-owned house at 1229 Chicago Ave. that may make way for a Trader Joe’s parking lot.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says Northwestern University is playing an important role in efforts to bring a Trader Joe’s grocery store to Evanston.

Bobkiewicz says the university owns a parcel of land at 1229 Chicago Avenue that may ultimately be included in the Trader Joe’s development.

He said Terraco, Inc. of Wilmette started talking to the city about the Trader Joe’s project a year ago and gained control of the former Blockbuster Video property at 1211 Chicago Avenue last August.

But to provide sufficient parking for the planned 13,000 square foot Trader Joe’s store, the site needed a bigger footprint.

Bobkiewicz said the developer initially tried to obtain the parcel to the south that is occupied by a Shell gas station, but the station’s owner wasn’t interested in selling.

The developer then worked with city staff to identify the ownership of the parcels to the north — which include a storefront building housing a tanning salon and a now-shuttered restaurant at 1223-25 Chicago — which Terraco has had under contract to purchase since late last year.

1223-25 Chicago Ave.

The property at 1229 Chicago, it turned out, had been owned by the university for at least the past 90 years, and apparently, Bobkiewicz says, was acquired under a long-ago homestead program under which a homeowner could sell their house to the school in return for a promise that their children would be educated at NU for free.

“When we approached the university about the Trader Joe’s prospect,” Bobkiewicz said, “they were very open to helping us with it.”

But because a final agreement on selling the 1229 Chicago Ave. property hasn’t been reached, and is complicated by an existing lease on the home, Bobkiewicz said, the city didn’t feel it was appropriate to talk about the university’s participation when the Trader Joe’s project was announced last Friday.

He says the city is exploring with Terraco the possibility of relocating, rather than demolishing the house.

The university’s role first came to light in a story in the Daily Northwestern this morning which suggested University President Morton Schapiro was surprised the university’s participation hadn’t been mentioned.

The story inaccurately described the university-owned land involved in the deal as an alley.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl issued a statement this morning apologizing for the omission and thanking the school for its role.

City officials have been gun-shy about promoting the arrival of Trader Joe’s in town after plans to locate the popular grocery at two other local sites fell through in recent years.

Current plans are to build the new store on what’s now the Blockbuster parking lot south of the existing store, and then demolish the existing buildings to provide parking.

Related story

New Trader Joe’s plan draws praise

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. NIMBY’s dilemma

    This must be very confusing for all of the NU-hating NIMBY's out there. 

    Of course, we hate Northwestern….but we love Trader Joe's, even though it isn't "local"….but we also love single-family houses, and they are tearing one down…but we love parking spaces, and they are giving us more parking spaces.

  2. looking up…

    Why not put parking on top of the structure, like the northside Whole Foods? Or beneath the structure?

    Let's get creative here – if we want to keep Evanston walkable and bike-able and transit friendly, we have to use the land we have on businesses and residences, not parking lots.

  3. Trader Joe’s

    I am baffled by Trader Joe's choice to locate between two Whole Foods stores and across the street from Jewel.   Aside from the potential traffic/parking nightmare I foresee–for it's bad there already–it's easy to imagine pedestrian and bicycle accidents by the score on that block.

    The former Asbury Street Market/Osco parcel at Asbury and Oakton makes more sense to me.  That site has a good-sized parking lot, easy access to a glut of Skokie and Chicago shoppers who flood the Target lot at Howard and Hartrey, and a ready-to-occupy store.  And I have no doubt that Ann Rainey would find a way to make the site even more attractive to Trader Joe's corporate leaders.

    I love Whole Foods South, and am willing to pay a bit extra for food that I never have to throw out a day or two after I purchase it.  However, I find the traffic at the store difficult during rush hour and/or bad weather.  At such times, exiting southbound is nearly impossible, so I end up going north to Dempster and then back south on Dodge, tacking another 10 minutes on my shopping trip.

    Before it's too late, perhaps Trader Joe's should rethink the Asbury Oakton option.  Easy access, existing parking, and proximity to the longest street in the metro Chicago area (Western) would draw many customers to their store.

    — Judy Fradin (Southwest Evanston) 

    1. Judy, I hear folks suggest

      Judy, I hear folks suggest that location for all kinds of different things, but did GFS marketplace get the boot or give up on that location? Did the city ever successfully clear it of whatever expensive cleanup was needed to rebuild a grocery there? I didn't hear about anything since the GFS Marketplace attempts.

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