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Panel OK’s city development strategy

biz-districts

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)

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