Office tower plan gets mixed reviews from neighbors

Plans for an 18-story office tower at 601 Davis St. got mixed reviews from neighbors who spoke at a 4th Ward meeting at the Evanston Public Library Tuesday night.

Kerry Dickson.

Kerry Dickson, managing director of Vermilion Development, said the project would bring about 950 additional office workers to the city to fill its nearly 200,000 square feet of leasable space.

One woman said she doubted whether the city needs a new Class A office buiding, and asked, “What happens if we’re staring at a recession in two years.”

Dickson replied that the office vacancy rate in Evanston now is only 5.2%, less than half what it is in downtown Chicago where 5 million square feet of office space is under construction.

A man claimed there are large amounts of vacant space in the 909 Davis and 1603 Orrington buildings downtown, a claim Dickson said is simply not true.

An aerial view, showing the proposed tower next to the existing two-story University Building on the northwest corner of Davis Street and Chicago Avenue.

Another woman said she saw a lot to like in the proposal and was encouraged that having more officer workers would support retail businesses downtown.

She expressed concern that the 40 parking garage spaces provided in the building might not be sufficient, but another speaker disagreed, saying the city shouldn’t “foist unnecessary parking on this building.”

“Evanston has a lot of underutilized parking,” another man said, saying rates in the city’s garages are “ridiculously cheap.”

Dickson said the developers were prepared to lease space in city garages if the on-site parking isn’t sufficient, but said that the trend in office buildings in transit-oriented locations is to dramatically reduce the amount of parking traditionally provided.

Another resident said he appreciated the plans to provide parking for 150 bikes in the building, and especially to include showers for bike riders.

Dickson said the developers are “tripling what we think we need for bike parking” and that they’re considering ways to make the bike parking and showers available to workers in nearby buildings, like the 1603 Orrington tower, that don’t have their own shower facilities for bike commuters.

The 601 Davis project recently received generally positive reviews (.pdf) from the non-profit group Design Evanston. The developers’ planned development request submitted to the city is available online.

The proposal is expected to be scheduled for review by the city’s Plan Commission this fall.

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