Evanston’s Economic Development Committee Tuesday night unanimously recommended that the City Council direct the city manager to negotiate an agreement for Smylie Bros. Brewing Co. to expand into the city’s former recycling center on Oakton Street.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, who chaired the meeting, said the proposal “sounds really exciting” and, noting plans to stress energy efficiency in developing the new brewery, said, alluding to the new Walgreen’s on Chicago Avenue, that it “would be fantastic to have two net zero buildings” in Evanston.

Alderman Melissa Wynne.

Michael Smylie, president of the family-controlled company that runs the existing brewpub on Oak Avenue downtown, said he wasn’t sure the new project could meet the net zero standard but that it offers opportunities — because of its location in a relatively open area — of including wind power and both photovoltaic and thermal solar energy options.

He said that at the Oak Avenue site “we’re seeing 125 to 150 degree water coming off the roof” which means the conventional water heaters there are hardly used. “It’s basically free energy once you pay the up-front cost,” Smylie added.

Johanna Nyden of the city’s economic development staff said the city issued a request for potential developers of the recycling center site to demonstrate their qualifications for such a project.

It received three responses. Two were from what the staff deemed qualified entities, Nyden said, and Smylie Bros. was the one that best met the city’s objective of creating a “destination-oriented use with dining and entertainment opportunities.”

Smylie Bros. listed in its proposal a team of architects and engineers that have worked on several other successful craft brewery projects in the Chicago area and that were involved in developing the existing Smylie Bros. site.

Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the recycling center, said, “This is one of the best put-together teams for a project I’ve ever seen.”

Alderman Ann Rainey.

Referring to earlier proposals to have a non-profit group that likely would have needed substantial financial support from the city take over the recycling center for a youth sports facility, Rainey said the earlier proposals “looked like a noose around the city’s neck.”

And, referring to the lakefront mansion that the city leased for decades to a non-profit for $1 a year, she added, “I don’t want another Harley Clarke on Oakton.”

Nyden said staff concluded that rather than go ahead with the next stage of the review process and request formal proposals from would-be developers, the city should, assuming the City Council approved, move directly to negotiating an agreement with Smylie Bros.

Skipping that step means many aspects of a final agreement remain uncertain — including whether the company would lease the recycling center or purchase it from the city.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, noted that at one time the city had hoped to see a bowling alley at the recycling center site, but said “this is even better than what we might have imagined for the space.”

“I hope this will be a catalyst for bringing in other youthful recreation and entertainment program that we’ve had in mind for a long time for Evanston,” Grover said.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said that with a lot of new development happening on the other side of McCormick Avenue in Skokie, “this will be a big draw to get people to cross over and spend more money in Evanston.”

And Smylie added that he anticipates the new brewery would also bring in customers from the Andersonville and Rogers Park neighborhoods in Chicago.

Related story

Smylie Bros. wants recycling center (7/6/15)

Related document

EDC packet with Smylie Bros. proposal

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation



    don't do a rental (lease). The city needs to get out and stay out of the landlord business. There are many examples with the Harley Clark mansion being one of the best. The city has failed as a landlord and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. Sell all the property you have accumulated and get back into the business of running a city.

  2. How about parking?

    Parking is already challenging in that area on days when the athletic fields are busy and in full swing. The spaces on Oakton fill completely, as well as both of the two James Park/Levy Center parking lots. If the Alderman seek an "entertainment destination," I hope they're planning for parking.

    1. Parking Lots on north side of Oakton
      The first thing that comes to my mind is to look into an arrangement with the owner(s) of the lots on the north side of Oakton (Aldi, PetSmart, etc), the south side of which are often empty because they are furthest away from the entrances to those businesses. Then build a pedestrian bridge over Oakton, which would make it safer for everyone to cross back and forth– users of the park, the brewery, the businesses on the north side of Oakton, etc.

  3. Pizza & a beer with a James Park vista
    I think this is a great idea… Just the other day I was looking at the old recycling center as I exited Home Depot’s lot that I thought (to myself ) that there must be a better use for this space than storing trash containers!

    Presumably the Smylie Brothers would have a beer garden facing the park… what’s not to like about pizza & a beer with a James Park vista? Please invite me to the Grand Opening!

    Respectfully, Brian
    (who is completely OK with the City being a landlord for sensible projects)

  4. I’m confused

    Can someone explain the difference between Smylie Brothers developing a commercial venture in a city owned site in James Park and Jennifer Pritzker developing a commercial site adjacent to Lawson Park? Both are commercial operations. Both sites are currently owned by the City of Evanston.

    Are double standards being applied? If so, why? 

    I'm just trying to understand.

    1. Good Point

      I think we might see the "Don't sell the City Park Land" (which never was park land) signs popping up again.

    2. Rich lakefront homeowners don’t care who goes to James Park
      The difference is that rich lakefront homeowners don’t care about who comes to James Park. What they do care about is keeping strangers away from the their homes by the lakefront. They will not see a need to print up signs and dupe the rest of Evanston into putting them up in their yards.

    3. Double standard?

      The issue is not a Double standard.  The city has not done its homework in either case.

      Understand proper analysis was not done on Harley Clarke, and it is now also becoming apparent on the Recycling center.

      A few questions:

      1) Why no appraisl on the Recycling center? How can Wally start meeting with Smylie Bros without this?

      2) Where is all the items in the recycling center going to be stored now? At one point they were talking about renting another building? Try about $10 a square foot in rent!

      3) Has the city looked at this for recreational needs,?  Then again there appears to be no plan for their programs and facilities. How could this help down size the cost of Robert Crown?

      I personal do not care if they sell the recycling center, but given Wally's track record, I am worried we will end up paiding more money out than we gain. How much do you think this property is worth, Mr Paine? If Wally sells it way below market value we have again lose money.

      How much does it cost to replace a 13,000 sq ft building, I would suspect close to $3 million dollars not including land, do you think Smylie Bros wants to pay this? Remember we were offer $1.3 million for Harley clarke when the appraisal was $3 million for even less land than the Twani wanted.

      If this City needs to have fire sales on our assets, it time to fire Wally, the mayor and the council, given the high taxes, we need new leadship! ( the nonsense they are spending high maintenance costs, they have spent almost no money on these buildings!)

      1. There is absolutely no way

        There is absolutely no way that recycling center could fetch that kind of price. Have you driven by it? Can't imagine the land it sits on is really worth that much either.

        1. Value of Recycling Center

          The issue is NO appraisal of the property has been done. I used a $200 a sq foot replacement cost value, Think you can build this building for much less.  I seriously doubt it. This is a brick faced building with 4 loading docks, and small office structure. The Council members and Wally might tell you its worthless, but once again they have not followed a proper procedure.

          A appraiser will look at this in several ways.

          You are suggesting this is not worth much, if that is the case, and we  are offer $1 million dollars, I would not sell it and use it for a recreation center, it will accomodate one gym.

          If They want to go to North Chicago to build their brewery I would say let them.

          1. Check your prices

            I probably would not use you as a contractor…simple internet search quotes $78.38 per square foot for "warehouse square foot cost assuming brick with block back-up / bearing walls", from 2013. That site (RMSmeans) tack on another 25% and 7% for fees and come up with an average of $104.84/square foot. Can't imagine adding the loading docks would double the cost of the place.

            The building is certainly not "worthless" and I can't imagine that anyone thinks it is so. Just don't salivate over the millions and millions of dollars that you hope the city to command for it, a) because there doesn't appear to be a line of buyers for it b) because it's not exactly prime real estate in Evanston c) because it's not that special of a building.

            I'd rather the city try to make money off of the property by selling it/leasing it/etc to a business that will generate a lot of tax revenue for the city than have the city spend money that they don't necessarily have to rehab it into a gym that will not generate them any money and that people may or may not even use. AND I'd rather *not* chase a business out of town.

            I wonder, do you think the city is wary of appraisals after their appraisal for the mansion was way more than the bid for the mansion was? Either the appraisal was way off (possible) or the Pritzker offer was way off (definitely possible). I don't know that I trust either of those groups.

          2. Appraisal

            I think you are not really understanding how real estate deals work. First of all, of course there will be an appraisal. No bank is going to finance such a deal without one, and the city isn't going to throw away resources either. Also, while the replacement cost of the building may be high for sure, I suspect that you are not taking into account the depreciation of the building over its lifespan. I have driven by that property many times. If anything was to go into there, it would take significant resources to renovate it. Perhaps this is why there is not a huge line of companies who wish to utilise it?  The RFQ went out and there was only 3 proposals that came in, one of which didn't even meet the qualifications. Also, who is putting in a recreation centre?  I was not aware that anyone had proposed to do so. Are you going to do it?  Are you going to raise that capital to buy it and renovate it?  This site was never meant to be a rec center. It's an abandoned recycling centre, made specifically for industrial use. One of the most important themes in real estate development is finding the highest and best use of a property. If our elected officials are incapable of doing that then there is something wrong. I don't know if that use is a brewery but it certainly seems that the lengthy and public process the city has undertaken gives a little credence to this proposed project. Also please don't forget that the city has been trying to use this facility for years. Please suggest a project that makes any kind of financial sense, as building a basketball does not. something that pays taxes. Thanks 

          3. Evidence does not support city due diligence
            From the Trader Joe, Art Center and many more, we see the city does not get good evaluations and or ignores them for political, voter support or just pure not caring if the use/change is something they want.

          4. Re appraisal

            You believe the city acts in a rational manner? Would you start a process like this  without an appraisal?

            The city is not a real estate developer. It is here to serve the public. If you believe they should maximize profit like a business, then you  better take a very good look at the complete mess at the city.

            The one business the city is in, is the Water business, Wally can not even give us simple definition of how this business is operating.  I suggest you go take a look at the books and tell us what you think, I suspect its bankrupt, ofcourse the reason there is no crisis, is the city has raised the water bills on us over 40% in the last five years!

            Rational process, the city wanted to spend over $500 a sq ft to renovate the two fog houses behind Harley clarke for close to $1 millioin dollars. These two little buildings were about 1200 sq ft – the are garages at best!

            On Howard st we have a huge mess, why would the city renovate an apartment for business owners, or for that matter build a business a patio with city workers?

            The recycling center is more complex than best use. as I posted,where are the putting all the stuff they store there? Also how does this play into the mess at Robert Crown – do you believe they can raise $20 million in donations?  A smaller Robert Crown less the basket ball court may help?

            Should the city take a look at this for a recreation use, no not a private use. As I said I am not adverse to a sale, provided it provides us maximum benifit.  If the sale price is too low, I believe the option of a basketball gym facility  is a good use with taxpayer money, to lower the size of Robert Crown.

            One thing for certain Wally and his junior level staff ( note he got rid of all the experienced people)  can not do is provide us with good competent analysis of these deals, the back up work is full of errors and missing items, such as the current work, no appraisel and no real analysis of other potential city uses.

            ( $200 a sq ft is good replacement cost, without even add up the parking lot, land and the building, construction, this is not a simple warehouse at $80 sq ft)

          5. Wally knows what the Recycling Center cost.

            I just found an article from 2012 in the Tribune that quotes Wally as saying the city built the recycling center for $4 million ( that would not include the land)

            Maybe with the land we are pushing $5 million – what will the city sell this for now?

            Will they pretend all the so called benifits of the brewery add up to $5 million?

      2. May I suggest an exchange of properties?

        How about the city exchanges the Oakton property with the trash transfer station at Church and Darrow.  Then use the Church Street property for housing.  I think it could be a win, win situation for the city, the transfer business and the new home owners or renters.

        1. That is a good idea
          That is a really good idea. That location would be a better fit for everyone. But I don’t think it would ever happen though. While Evanston homes, businesses, and institutions create plenty of garbage, it seems we have collectively decided we are too good for the handling, transfer, or disposal of it to take place in our same city.

        2. Thanks so much for thinking of us

          Those who live adjacent to or near the old recycling center don't want to exchange that building for a trash transfer station. We already have enough problems, including smells from the MWRD facility across McCormick Avenue.  But thanks so kindly for thinking of this neighborhood as a convenient place to offload a stinky problem.

    4. Well, one of them is a

      Well, one of them is a visually appealing, historic mansion on the lake. The other is a vacant industrial building across from Home Depot. I'd prefer the city keep the mansion and ditch the industrial building.

      1. recycling center
        It’s such a shame! That building is perfect for a youth center..doesn’t anyone care about this?

        1. recycling center

          The City hasn't accepted (that they announced). Submit a proposal  to the committee for review.

  5. City park land, but who cares

    City park land, but who cares since it's oin the west side of town?  And it's ill maintained.  Water fountain hasn't worked for years.  Walking / running path is riddled with pot holes, parts are often flooded, and sand covers some areas.  That's what the west side gets.

    Minimum parking in adjacent areas.  Landowners of the property across Oakton may place some value on their property when you decide the city can use it for parking.  No crosswalks.

    One bus uses Oakton.

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