Evanston’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday evening approved a plan to focus on five categories of business growth for the city’s future.

The categories are:

  • Technology-based businesses
  • Health care and wellness industries
  • Baby boomer markets
  • Arts and entertainment venues
  • Water industries.

The plan also calls for efforts to strengthen all of the city’s business districts. A new effort to map the districts identifies 20 different ones of varying sizes, including some that are adjacent to each other and may not have been considered separately in the past.

A larger version of the map, with a key identifying each of the districts, is available online.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said that in the past the city’s approach to devleopment “was kind of two-dimensional — tax increment financing districts and encouraging condominium buildings.”

“This is so much more robust than anything we’ve thought about in a long time,” Grover said.

And she asked what tools city staff plan to use to achieve the goals.

“The number one tool is love,” responded City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. “You have to let businesses know that you want them here.”

“You can’t do that with a policy or a website,” he added, “You have to go out and find them, create a relationship, understand what their needs are and make it happen.”

Bobkiewicz offered as an example of the new approach the Gordon Food Service Marketplace store now under construction on Oakton Street. 

“They came not because we had the best property, or offered them the most money, but because we wouldn’t let them go. We loved them, and said that their coming to Evanston was so important and that the parcel they planned to build on was so important.”

“And now I drove by the other day and the four walls and roof are already up.”

Asked by Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, why the city didn’t include college students as a target market, like it did with baby boomers, Bobkiewicz responded that city staff has concluded, after discussions with Northwestern University officials, that students, undergraduates especially, aren’t interested in going very far off campus.

They already use downtown, he said, but it would be difficult to interest them in other neighborhoods.

While there has been much discussion in the past of developing technology-based businesses, building in part off research developments at the university, and building on the city’s existing strengths as a center for the arts and the health industry, the baby boomer theme was more novel.

Bobkiewicz suggested that many boomers who have retired from their primary careers may be interested in starting new businesses in the community and that the city needs to figure out how to encourage that trend.

The boomers, he said, also tend to be attracted to Evanston because of the university, strong health-care options, active downtown and diverse cultural and entertainment options.

He suggested that the city needs to explore more age-in-place opportunities and challenges such as accessibility within commercial areas.

The proposal now goes to the full City Council for review next month.

Related document

The draft Economic Development Plan (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Great Work

    This is a great step forward for the city, now that we're looking organized and attracting new businesses let's see if we can't develop a manufacturing plan to get a specific industry type (either in the urban farming area, green energy growth, etc) that can be done in Evanston where we can have growth again. If we have something we can produce, we can fix a lot of our vacant property in the old manufacturing corridor on the west side of the city. I'm hoping that this new momentum will drive the city leaders towards innovative solutions to our large vacant lots and lack of private industry non-administrative non-retail job growth. 


    Retail is good, but progress can get better. 

    1. Great ideas!  So great that

      Great ideas!  So great that these ideas are being explored/progressed in part by two Evanston 150 committees – Green and Clean and Edible Evanston.  They are all driven by volunteers but a consortium of business/NW, etc. are behind the efforts.  Check it out and get involved – we need more good thinkers like you!

  2. facade improvement plan? City of Evanston as a bank?

    What is the economic benefit of giving businesses free money to improve their facades?

    WHy is TOm Fischl asking the city of Evanston to act as  bank to give him a low interest loan?  Tom Fischl is a great guy with an amazing record in Evanston, but why can he not go to a bank like everyone else for a $35,000 loan?

    Is $63,000 for IMRCO to be used to promote the idea of business/blog/celebrate business in Evanston a wise investment?  WIll celebrating the idea of business actually bring more business in?  All 8 alderman appear to think so?

    Or $25,000 to fund Technology INstitute Center?  Chuck Happ, chairman of TIC, says that "banks aren't funding the way they used to."   7 of 8 of our alderman just agreed to become the bank for the TIC. 

    1817 Church Street- City granted $200,000 loan to re-develop as contractor co-op

    Chicago/Main Development coming to the city requesting $20,000 to help with marketing the new building? (addendum page 3 of 4).  My taxes are being used to market a new building?

    623-627 Howard- city purchased building… So, now we are acting as a bank and a realtor?

    2424 Gordon FOods-  finally starting to build. The city spent $100,000 to lure them to town. How long will it take to make $100,000 back to make this investment worth it?  Especially as the city continues discussing increasing TIF regions?

        In keeping taxes high to fund such expenditures, does it not discourage new business?  If banks won't touch these "investments" why do our alderman become the bank with our tax money?

    When Mr. BObkiewicz "The number one tool is love," he can't be serious?   Does love pay the bills?  Business doesn't come to town based on love, it comes to town because the business can make money above and beyond costs/taxes.

    Aren't high tax rates and encouraging business mutually exclusive?

    All this money could have been taken to fund crossing guards for the schools.  THe city has been arguing with the school districts about who will pay for these people, as apparently there is not enough money to easily afford them-

    1. Evanston investments

      Can't speak to everything you listed but will speak about a few.  The Gordon building, simple investment, simple math.  Give them 100K, they build a big commercial building.  R.E. taxes alone will pay back the tiny 100K in 1 to 2 years at max.  After that it's all positive cash flow with virtually no expenditures going forward way beyond when we're all dead and buried.  Not to mention the jobs, sales taxes, etc. etc.   Great investment by the city, 100K will reap millions within the decade, Bravo. 

      20K to help market Chicago Main, ok, maybe nothing ever gets builit and then we all lose 20K.  Some small risk, yes, possible huge payback, also yes.  If that 20K can help land a major tenant, then the property gets built.  If that property gets built the city will realize at minimum several 100K per year in r.e. taxes each and every year going forward, again beyond when we're all dead and buried.  Small and prudent 20K risk by the City today with potential of millions in payback.  Attractive risk reward ratio here, wish I could get those percentages.

      25K for tic, how much is the r.e. tax bill they are paying now?  Shooting from the hip I'd say well over 250K annual at a bare minimum, probably much higher than that.  What both Tic and the city needs to work on is to ensure that those companies stay in Evanston if they succeed and grow.  Low cost rent today should mean future committments here tomorrow.  25K probably equals about one month of their R.E. taxes and that gets reinvested back to encourage the formation and growth of the exact types of business and jobs this community needs to attract seems pretty ok to me. 

      I could go on.  As someone who pays both residential and commercial r.e. taxes in this town I think these are pretty solid investments.  Glad to see the city taking such actions. 

      1. Instead of grants why not tax credits?

        All the expenditures I listed are inside the link above-

        I know that businesses might WANT incentives to build- I would rather see this done without putting the city taxpayer taking the risk.

        If Gordon will collect 100K in taxes in a one or two years as you say, then why not give them tax free status for two years?  Make them take all risk for financing, but then let them keep all the "rewards."   The city isn't collecting money now from Gordon, so we don't lose any money, but we just don't gain any either until Gordon gains.  If Gordon is as successful as you say they will be, they will make $100K regardless of what way we give them the money.

        Yes, if Chicago/Main doesn't get built, we all lose 20K as, we have locked in a loser.  As a taxpayer, are you not concernred that taxes are up 11% in two years?  I am. I am uncomfortable with locking in losers, as we struggle to pay the bills for things like crossing guards, libraries, and community centers. 

        My concern is that these 8 aldermen are no replacement for a bank. 

        Just look at the 2008 housing crash to see what happens when the government starts giving out loans to people who may not be credit worthy.  I'm just saying, if some of these people are coming to the city because they can't get loans from the bank, why do our 8 aldermen think they know better than an entire bank with people whose sole job it is to look at credit worthiness?

        I also see the city continuously choosing favorites for who gets  special grants (i.e. certain businesss districts get grants/brochure money/"networking" parties).   Why not get rid of these special grants and just lower the corporate tax rate for all?  Wouldn't this be the more equitable way of doing things?

          If you are a commerical property holder, does your business reside in one of these favored areas?  i.e. central downtown, central street, or west end?  If you speak to business owners on Noyes Street, for example, you will see they are tired of the favoritism.





        1. Grants

          I don't think you understand the Gordon deal.  The 100K only gets spent if they build. When they build we take basically zero risk.  The payback to the city comes primarily through real estate taxes.  That big brand new commercial building will generate enough r.e. taxes to pay back the 100K in 1 to 2 years.  It is a complete and absolute no brainer. 

          As a taxpayer that is exactly why I support the 20K for chicago main.  If that project gets built the city will again reap millions of dollars in real estate taxes, millions that are certainly needed.  No bank will finance that project without a major credit worthy tenant no matter how much money the developers put up. 

          Therefore, 20K to help the developer to market and find a credit tenant is IMO a small price/risk when compared to the reward in getting that building up and generating millions in cash directly to the city.  Saving 20K this year might pay what, one crossing guard, comparatively, millions in revenue over endless years pays for what?  Risk/reward that makes complete sense to me.

          I also don't like favoritism but have no idea what your referencing.  Anyway, I also see value in grants to districts to create brochures, etc. to help market districts.  

          When you consider that commercial property is taxed at double the assessed rate of residential and the huge, massive amount of taxes of every nature that business generates for the city, the number of jobs they create,  the very, very small amounts invested back into the business community for "brochures"  to help grow their business is not unreasonable.  In fact, anything less would be so shortsighted I would call it irresponsible.  


      2. If such good investments—-

        Then let private individuals make the loans and get a high interest rate or share in the increased profits the investment brings.  At worst allow the investor to get from the city a tax break on a portion of the incremental profits even if they [city] has to do through the state.

        The taxpayers should not be footing all the gifts the Council wants to make.

      3. Aldermen speak with forked tongue

        re: Evanston investments.

        I tend to agree with what you wrote. In these difficult times it is necessary to provide a carrot and stick approach to ATTRACT businesses to take a chance and set up shop in Evanston.

        What confuses me is city leaders say they are taking a new approach and moving away from the TIF district mentality but that doesn't square with what they are actually doing.

        City leaders want to create two additional TIF Districts that apparently would benefit specifically two developers who already OWN the properties in question – the Evanston Plaza Shopping Center (bought last year in a foreclosure) and vacant land at the southeast corner of Main and Chicago, owned by OMS in which it won city approval to build an office building there.

        Meanwhile, Evanston aldermen want to expand the downtown TIF District to benefit another developer who has already won city approval to build a music theater on Davis Street. 

        So how can Alderman Jane Grover insinuate that Evanston has adopted a new approach to identify and develop 20 business districts and is moving away from the TIF District model? Can we infer that a TIF District would be created for each of the 20 identified business districts?

        What aldermen and the city manager are saying and doing sounds like political theater to me.

        Let's not forget about the hundreds of thousands of dollars the city has spent in the past two years gobbling up real estate along Howard Street and the Fifth Ward. To the best of my knowledge, these properties remain vacant and I'm not clear what if any plans the city has with these properties that are now off the tax rolls.

        BTW- does anyone know how the city and Gordon Foods negotiated around the city's green ordinance? Did Gordon Foods simply capitulate after threatening not to build or was some kind of deal worked out – maybe the $100,000 included the additional costs to construct a building to the standards of city's unique green ordinance? 

        1. City staff advocated gutting the Green Building Ordinance

          When Gordon approached the city, the City Manager proposed "amendments" which would have basically gutted the green building ordinance.

          When the citizens complained at this blatant end-around of the ordinance, he moved from gutting to  a serious watering-down of the ordinance.

          The watered-dwon ordinance was passed last year, to the advantage of Gordon Foods and to the detriment of the citizenry.

        2. Yes, alderman talk and one

          Yes, alderman talk and one should never take what any politician says at face value.  Theatre has always been part of politics. 

          Still, TIF's remain a very valid means of accomplishing development and having a development in planning stage is exactly when you want to form the TIF.  Otherwise the TIF can sit there with no proposals on the drawing board and time ticking away.  As time passes the value of the TIF decreases and becomes less useful with each and every passing day.

          It is a tool that can help a project happen that otherwise may not happen, the final piece of a complicated puzzle that allows you to actually complete the puzzle.  The question isn't whether to use the TIF tool of not, but whether the tool helps complete a puzzle with a picture worth seeing.

          While I don't know anything about any proposals that may be out there today, IMO, the city has done a great job with TIF's and they have been and will continue to have very positive results for the taxpayers.

          As far as the green ordinance, I think it would have killed the project outright, Gordon would simply have built in Skokie and Evanston would have been out millions of dollars.  A scenario that has been repeated by Evanston far too often for whatever reason de jour and it's about time that nonsense ended.

  3. Bank and city financing

    Several comments have been made about banks not making loans.

    I don't know but suspect at least is partly true. Why ? Because they were blamed for all the risky loans—mostly mortgage—that caused//contriubuted to the recession.

    They were told to tighten their lending standards and now are being blamed for not lending—though now the Federal government is pushing banks to make more mortgage loans, lower downpayment  requirements and 'ease up' on borrowers.  Get ready for another problem from this government push !

    For all the problems the banks have had with their finances, cities and clearly Evanston finances are more in trouble for bad loans, gifts, pension/salary promises, continued hiring and creating new [un-needed] public jobs and general waste.

    The city could probably learn from the banks—but we have seen they never seem to learn from any source.

    The bar on Howard seems to show they are getting worse instead of better.

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