The Evanston Plan Commission tonight voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the proposed 49-story tower at 708 Church St. to the City Council.

The approval vote included recommendations to the council proposed by Commission Chairman James Woods that:

  • The council form a special committee of aldermen, plan commissioners and city staff to assure that the project meets the highest architectural standards as plans for it are further developed.
  • The design for the base of the tower be made more compatible with the tower itself and with surrounding downtown architecture.
  • At least one level of parking be placed below grade so that a four-story base for the building could include a second story with office and retail uses.
  • Tax increment financing district revenue generated by the project be used to redevelop the fountain square plaza and, if legally possible, to upgrade the appearance of the Fountain Square Building.
  • The developer conduct wind tunnel testing.
  • The existing 708 Church St. building not be torn down before final financing for the new project is secured.

The commissioners were sharply divided on whether development downtown over the last several decades has made the Fountain Square block an appropriate site for high-rise development.

Commissioners who looked to the east and west saw Sherman Plaza, the Chase Bank tower and other high rise developments and said yes.

Commissioners who looked to the north and south claimed to see only the low rise buildings across the street and said no.

The taller Rotary International, Optima Towers and 1800 Sherman buildings a little further north and south escaped comment by either side.

The debate was unusually acrimonious for the Plan Commission, with Commissioner Coleen Burrus claiming the review process “has been a blemish on the integrity of the city” and alleging that the city’s Community Development Department had failed to uphold “its duty to serve the city and residents” by producing a report that “parroted the text and arguments given by the developer.”

She called for an “investigation of the process” — a suggestion that did not draw visible support other commission members.

Commissioner Robin Schuldenfrei, an architectural historian, argued for preservation of all three buildings on the block.

But Commissioner Charles Staley called the 708 Church St. building that would be demolished for the tower “a bad tooth due for extraction.”

The commissioners also argued about the role of public comment in their decision-making, with tower opponents saying they should reject the project because most public comment had been opposed.

When Woods suggested that the commission also needed to evaluate the best interests of the city, including improving its tax base to reduce the financial burden on existing taxpayers, Burrus said, “Using that logic you might just put a price tag on the city.”

The commissioners plan to adopt formal findings regarding the tower project at their next meeting, Dec. 19, which means the tower proposal will likely be on the agenda of the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee at its Jan. 14 meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. 49 story give away
    So much for requiring public benefits. My faith in the “public process” has really been shaken on this one. Is our governance really becoming a miniature version of our southern neighbors? The least the Plan Commission could have done was sent the proposal back to the developers to come up with public benefits that could pass a minimum integrity test level.

  2. More Firefighters will be needed if a Skyscraper is Built
    According to the Chief of the Evanston Fire Department, the city is NOT equipped to fight a fire in a high-rise building. In a statement read into the public record, the Chief points out that in Chicago 61 firefighters are sent to a high-rise fire. At the moment Evanston can send only about 26. So, we either spend lots of money to hire more firefighters and who knows what kind of expensive equipment, or we do nothing and if and when there is a fire and the city can’t respond adequately, we are sued and end up in a serious financial crisis.

    Ignoring this potential cost and resident opposition, the Plan Commission voted (narrowly – 4 to 3) to approve the skyscraper.

    1. Interesting observation
      Serious Financial Crisis? Very in-depth thought process you have, Peter. Did you factor in the millions of dollars of additional tax revenues coming in from a high rise building that has a couple of hundred luxury condominiums paying annual real estate taxes? oops. nevermind.

      1. Response to Anonymous
        Your response to my comment is devoid of depth, understanding and of course, identity. But thanks for giving me the opportunity to add more detail.

        Did you know that if we hire 35 more firefighters (which we would need to do) it would probably cost the city in the neighborhood of $3.5 million ($100 K x 35)?

        Did you know that the developers have admitted that the new skyscraper would add no more than $3.5 million to the city in terms of taxes?

        So, just the new firefighters alone would eliminate the tax benefits to the city. In addition to hiring more firefighters, we would have to buy expensive equipment to deal with high-rises. A new skyscraper would also bring in about 300 new residents who would add to congestion, pollution and place new demands on city services, such as schools, roads, etc. The costs would be much higher than $3.5 million. I guess we would then have to build another skyscraper to get out of the mess.

        1. One More Thing
          Oh, and, by the way, Miss/Mister anonymous,

          Did you know that since the new skyscraper would be built in a TIF, the city won’t begin to see most of the money until 2018? Initially the city will get about $400-500 K from this monstrosity. The city however would have to hire more firefighters and purchase new equipment right away. Sound like a fiscally responsible, smart move to you?

        2. Partial Solution
          I know a way the city could help reduce its congestion, pollution and strain on resources by at least one person.

          I can’t believe how incredibly smug you are. And your logic doesn’t even make any sense: people moving into a community are bad for its health, costing it more than they give to it? How could any community survive if that were the case? You accuse others of oversimplifying their arguments and then go and do the very same thing yourself.

    2. Fire Fighters
      Isn’t it true that most if not all of our neighboring communities have agreements with respect to providing assistance to each others’ fire departments in the event of a major emergency.

      Don’t you think that the purpose for such agreements is to be responsible to each communities taxpayers?

      Do you really believe that each municipality keeps their staffing levels for their fire departments at a level to address the worst case event. It seems to me that the coop agreements are in place for good practical and economic reasons, and to guarantee the safety of all citizens.

  3. Taxing issues
    I spend more in R.E. taxes on my 2 bedroom condo in downtown Evanston than the average owner of a 2 story home in Evanston. The demographics of these condo owners paying outrageous taxes doesn’t include children – which of course use the education where the tax dollars go. So the people who pay more in taxes don’t even get to use what the majority of the taxes even go for. Please note, I have no problem paying these taxes because they go to good causes – but people complaining that condos don’t generate revenue while they pay no taxes is really annoying. Condos efficiently use land and help our local economy.

    This argument of wind is also pretty funny. If the Sherman Plaza didn’t create any issues, I think we’ll be okay. According to Al Gore, we’ll need the breeze to help cool us off when it’s 80 degrees in January.

    Regarding expensive equipment used to fight fires in highrises – if we don’t have that already, I really feel sorry for all those people already living in downtown Evanston highrises! I hope that nothing happens to the Chase Tower – or the City of Evanston better have a good relationship with Robert Shapiro!

    If you don’t like the tower, then don’t buy a unit there. The market is horrible right now and for the developer to actually go ahead with this just proves his ego is too big or he thinks lots of people want this. It’ll be interesting to see how that pans out.

  4. The Skyline is Not Falling
    Having worked in the Rotary building for many years, I can attest that the high-rise views of tree-covered Evanston, its lakefront, the North Shore, and the Chicago skyline are spectacular. What a great selling point for a project like this.

    Most folks who purchased units in any of the the newer high-rise condo buildings will say the same.

    My hope is that when the downtown population increases, so will the stores (like the old Marshall Field’s) offering basic household items that residents can now only get by traveling to Old Orchard.

    In the meantime, try walking three or four blocks in any direction from downtown Evanston, where, in spite of the downtown development in recent years, it still feels like the same quaint old place many of us have always known.

  5. Make Way For the Tower

    I have to agree with your assessment of last night’s meeting. I especially like your call to action to those residents who have had the tenacity to continue to show up at meetings and for more residents to involve themselves in the expression of values of the City of Evanston and its residents. Here is the problem I see – where are residents to go with their concerns? To city hall where they can be marginalized by Plan Commission members and staff? The City Council, given their recent behavior of clandestine, closed door meetings with the developers, and having just allowed the moratorium to expire, (shocking!) is most assuredly not the place to go looking for sympathy. After the debacle of the previous council meeting, in my most recent post to this site, I asked if there any who might want to wager a friendly bet on how the council might vote at Monday’s meeting once the second ward alderman was present, and had no takers. Isn’t it something how everything seems to be going according to the plan discussed in the the Executive Session minutes of the Evanston city council, March 27, 2007 on page 3:
    “Timeline for project: The increment must be carefully timed because of the life of the TIF. They would go in May for a Planned Development application; have hearings over the summer and come back to Council in the fall. Then go to construction documents and construction; have retail occupancy in the first quarter of 2010….TIF increment is dependent on the private development schedule.”
    They seem to be a little behind schedule, due to all those public meetings.

    Thankfully, Mr. Bob Atkins, a citizen and attorney who sought release of the minutes from the State’s Attorneys office (because the meeting was held in violation of Illinois law), did so and now residents have a clearer understanding of how development in Evanston works.
    The silly banter of the “anonymous folks” will continue behind the cloak, as I predicted some time ago. The new policy for anything (including anonymous) goes continues to enable that behavior and undermine the credibility of this site in the name of boosting participation. Way to go Bill!

    As ever,

    Mimi Peterson

  6. Wind Tunnel
    In response to the author of “Taxing Issues” who wrote: “This argument of wind is also pretty funny. If the Sherman Plaza didn’t create any issues, I think we’ll be okay.”

    Anyone who has walked around the southeastern corner of Sherman Plaza on a windy day has experienced the gale force wind tunnel created by the development.

    1. re: wind tunnel
      I walk by that corner 5 days a week – seriously, I don’t think the difference is that bad, or noticeable. After Optima built the Views building (across from Century theaters) it created a little more wind, but again, I think the advantages of of the building outweigh the extra breeze.

  7. Tower
    In contrast to the process surrounding the new tower, the City Council wouldn’t allow David Hovey to present the model of his proposed Optima Promenade project at 1515 Chicago. Interesting how things work in Evanston.

    1. re:tower
      Excellent point! What is also strange is how Evanston shot down Roszak’s 37 story tower immediately saying it was too tall. I guess 49 stories is okay though…

  8. Changing City
    I really don’t understand why Evanstonians have a problem with a building of this size being constructed “downtown”. You’re supposed to be the City of Evanston, act like a city. Cities have tall buildings. I’ve read statements and articles where people are claiming that this development and others like it are ruining the historical character and integrity of Evanston. How so? Evanston is neither Paris nor London, and even those cities are embracing and building highrises while preserving the historical fabric.

    No one is proposing to tear down the historic structures along Ridge or Sheridan. What would be demolished is a non-historic, uninteresting structure on the Fountain Square block.

    People need to stop acting like Evanston is the sleppy college town of 1890. If Evanston is to continue to grow, it’s citizens need to realize that there’s more room up than out. Not “every” building is historic and worthy of preservation.

    Butler V. Adams

    1. Changing City Response
      Just because we call ourselves a city doesn’t mean we have to build skyscrapers. Have you ever been to Paris or London? Did you notice that they don’t build skyscrapers in their historic core? Do you think that Wilmette, or Winnetka, or Glencoe, or Highland Park would ever allow developers to build skyscrapers in their communities? No, they would not, because they value their environment and their quality of life.

      1. Give me a break…

        It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build them either. Especially when they already exist in the area.

        Wilmette, or Winnetka, or Glencoe, or Highland Park are a little different. These cities aren’t destination points. And as for Wilmette, seeing as they’re trying to do something progressive and interesting with their lakefront, one never knows until something above 5 stories is actually proposed. Evanston has had “taller” buildings for 30 years, so it’s not as shocking to the system to see.

        To answer your question, no, I’ve never been to London or Paris. And you’re correct, Paris (city proper) does have height limits, so the nearly 1,000′ tall building I was refering too is actually being built in the immediate suburbs, (heaven forbid this would ever happen in a suburb of Chicago). And seeing as Evanston doesn’t have suburbs, but is one… Maybe there’s hope yet. I should have given San Francisco as an example also, which is “NIMBY” central. They’re actually beginning to dance to the beat of a different drummer with several 900′ and even a 1,000’+ proposal on the boards after years of height restrictions and a plateaued skyline.

        Just because you call yourselves a city, also doesn’t mean that you have to stick your head in the mud and not accept other ideas or change. As I mentioned in my previous comment, there’s more room up than out, and I’d rather see Evanston go that way rather than sprawl out like Schaumburg. Having TOD (transit oriented development) and density in the core of downtown is very environmentally friendly, and it of course will provide more tax dollars. A tower won’t ruin the quality of life. In this case, it’ll actually inprove it by visually and finacially enhancing and under-utilized parcel of land.

        Just because something has age to it, doesn’t make it historic. It makes more sense to put height and density, in this case at the core of town, instead of along the edges. Height should not be the issue, but quality of design should be. When you’re building something of unprecidented height, that will become a landmark or the community, it should be the best design possible.

        Butler V. Adams

        1. Change for change’s sake
          Mr. Butler and various anons raise some interesting points.

          I am encouraged that some would question funding referendums for schools. I would hope that kind of scrutiny would apply to the 708 proposal.

          What is the public benefit? If we speak of “architecture”, Mr. Booth is a good architect, but the 708 is not iconic, far from it, and as pointed out by a member of the Plan Commission, it is drearily similar to his other works. Worse yet, there are many details left out. If we really want civic architecture, I would make the triangle a public plaza, a real center of town. Even the Chandler plaza works better than what we have.

          From an economic view, it is hard to see economic benefits in the near future. Nothing will be there tax-wise until 2012 or later (there are a few leases hanging) in that interim we will not have any incremental tax revenue, so at best we could have four or five years of tax revenue — none going to the schools, now in deep doodoo — so the NPV benefit is minor. Big deal, I want more upfront public benefit. Where is the negotiating talent in this administration?

          As for retail, minimal. Worse yet, who goes in there, national chains or local merchants?

          The issue of office space is less than answered, it will be reduced.

          So, we are not against change per se, what we want is a reasonable trade off against public benefit. What we have now is zilch.

      2. Paris or London????
        Peter, Peter, Peter. Oh how you amuse me. You are comparing Evanston, IL to London and/or Paris?

        If a city doesn’t move forward, it dies. Do you remember Downtown Evanston a few short years ago? Do you think it was better with all of the shuttered storefronts with no nightlife whatsoever? Do you think the movie theatre complex was a poor idea?

        I just don’t get it.

        1. Miny Paris
          It’s even stranger than that, my Anonymous friend. Peter seems to be suggesting that our role models are not only London and Paris, but also Winnetka and Highland Park.

          Still I wonder, why are those cities so special? Why is it desirable to be a miny Paris or miny London, but not a miny Manhattan or miny Kuala Lumpur, miny Toronto, or miny Shanghai – cities with towers. We don’t need a 2000 foot tower like those cities, but 49 stories is just right.

          Evanston became what it is mainly because it is the first suburb north of Chicago – not the first town south of Wilmette. And the anti-development crowd seems to be pulling in both directions – we want to be like Paris or Glencoe, just not like Chicago.

          { P.S. : Maybe if France were more open to economic development , they wouldn’t have the rioting alienated youths burning down their banlieueus. Those French kids need jobs ( construction, or working at the stores ) and housing outside their public ghettoes ( build them some condos!). And housing in London is very, very expensive. Even if they don’t have highrises in the City, I am sure that somewhere on the outskirts of London ( maybe 15 miles north of the City perhaps?) they have towers. }

          1. London has lots of tall buildings
            As of May 2007, there were 10 buildings with a roof height of at least 150 m in London with a further 12 under construction or approved for construction. The next few years will see massive changes to London’s skyline, with literally dozens of new skyscrapers planned. In 2007, construction began on the 225 m Leadenhall Building, and 2008 will see construction starting on the 310 m Shard London Bridge, the 288 m Bishopsgate Tower, the 246 m Heron Tower, the 236 m and 189 m Riverside South towers, the 181 m St George’s Wharf Tower, the 163 m Beetham Tower, and the 160 m Fenchurch Street Tower, along with numerous other skyscrapers around the capital. View a skyline image.

    2. Destroying the City
      Paris allows high rises only in the surrounding suburbs, the city of Paris has definite height limits and no skyscrapers in its downtown. BTW the Paris suburbs with high rises are where the riots take place. London is limiting traffic into old London with daily fees for vehicles to enter, surely not an incentive to growth.

      Why does Evanston have to “grow”? The Council, having finally awoken to its financial blunders, is grasping for anything that might increase tax revenues, which they badly need and which we will feel. “Growth” seems to be the panacea for that.

      Character is something that our “representatives” do not understand. What is wrong with keeping the “old” Evanston? it is not just the mansions on Sheridan Road but downtown as well. It has architectural character, at least for now. What we do not need is an EMF thrusting its disregard, all in the name of magic “development”.

      How are those citizens in their doorman protected high rise going to be involved in the fabric of Evanston? There will be few children as past experience with the downtown condos indicates. Where is their involvement or interest in the schools? It seems that an attempt to include them as taxpayers in the business district is the only thing that excites them enough to be “angry” and become active. Will they be for or against any school funding referendum?

      What is magical about growth? Again I ask the same question, where is the public benefit, other than for the developers?

      1. I take exception to your
        I take exception to your comments about high-rise dwellers. I am one of those people you mention who lives in a downtown high-rise with a doorperson. I don’t know how that makes me any less interested or involved in the fabric of Evanston than you. Even though I do not have school-age children, my property tax dollars (which are probably higher on my condo than many single family homes) still goes to supporting the Evanston schools, as well as, city services. And that money is “free” money in the sense that there is no added burden of additional students to teach that goes with it. You ask whether I will be for or against any school funding referendum…I guess that depends on the business case presented. With 80% of the school budget currently being spent on personnel costs (i.e. salaries and benefits) and the school district saying they need more money, I am not in favor of simply expecting the taxpayers to foot the bill without an attempt to streamline the budget. That starts with having public sector entities recognize what the private sector already has…the need to reduce/eliminate salaries/benefits and/or expect more employee contributions in return to health premiums, etc. Back to the downtown plan…as a downtown resident, I am interested in balancing growth with quality of life. This is my neighborhood, not just a place I visit. I am not against growth, but in terms of the 708 Church proposal, I believe there needs to be less height, more public amenities, and a protection of much-needed office space to make this a desirable project. I assume by your comments you are a person who does not live downtown. Don’t alienate those of us who do just because we choose to live there. You may actually find we have certain beliefs in common.

      2. Benefit to my family
        Growth means:
        *more retail establishments and restaurants that my family can access by walking or taking public transportation meaning less driving (good for the environment) and more money being spent locally (good for Evanston) and more time for us (good for our families)
        * we LIKE living in a ‘urban suburb’, if we wanted to live someplace more suburban, we’d move there

      3. Applaud the progress
        There isn’t any particular architectural significance to the existing 708 Church building. This new tower would be a nice-looking replacement for those bland storefronts, but more importantly bring in needed property tax revenue to the city and bring shoppers into our stores and restaurants. This is progess, people!

        1. What progress?
          Exactly what public benefits is the developer granting us?

          An “iconic” building that looks like many others he has done?

          No underground parking, loss of class B office space,a TIF that won’t be available for years, future tax payments that are so far off that they do nothing for the immediate fiscal problems, no funding for the additional staffing for first arrival firefighters needed to deal with that building height (help from surrounding suburbs does not satisfy this need), no additional funding for Fountain Square rehab other than the far off TIF…..

          Do your math, the supposed property revenue is years away and at best a drop in the bucket — we are talking hundred of millions over the next 25 years. Are you thinking of 25 to 50 buildings of this type?

          Again where is the public benefit?

          1. What progress
            Class B office space will be replaced by Class A office space. I don’t see why preserving low rent offices is desirable for the city. If the Class A space fills up , great. If it doesn’t, the landlords will lower the rent to attract the tenants now in Class B space. Let the market handle this. Same for Williams shoes..they can be reimbursed for recent remodeling or moving expenses, but they don’t have a right to perpetually occupy that space.

            We could argue against any condominium development downtown. In fact, I think that some of the people who are against the tower are the same people who show up to argue against every other construction project downtown. What kind of city are you trying to preserve? A place for only those who can afford expensive single family homes, like the progressive cities of Wilmette and Winnetka? Or run down rentals?

            I remember the downtown when Woolworth and Osco were here, along with McDonald’s and the creepy Sherman Ave. garage. It wasn’t that great.

    3. No reason to fear change
      Mr. Adams: It was refreshing to read your comments. It appears to me that the so called perception of Evanston being a “progressive town” doesn’t seem to be the case any longer, at least if you read and listen to most of the objections that have been stated. For the most part those people fearing change the most are also the same people who continually talk about Evanston as being a progressive town.
      What is it that people are so afraid of? It’s hard to believe that the addition of a new high rise building in the center of the city should be that scary. Will this high rise really change the nature and character of the city of Evanston. I don’t think so, unless one is concerned that downtown will become more thriving and energetic.
      Consider the possibilities with an open mind.

  9. Miny Chicago
    I wonder what the anti-development people are trying to imply when they say that Evanston should not become a ‘miny Chicago’, or when they praise such progressive cities as ‘Wilmette, or Winnetka, or Glencoe, or Highland Park’ ?

    What is it about Chicago – specifically downtown Chicago, where the 49 story towers are – that makes it so undesirable? And why is Winnetka so desirable?

    Do we want Evanston to be a homogeneous little village of wealthy people, with a downtown full of boutique shops that sell frivolous luxury items? Should we have kept such architectural masterpieces as the old Woolworth’s, or the current Fountain Square building, just because they are old? Or do we want a city – a miny Chicago, if you will – with a business district, downtown housing, and ..gasp….a TOWER!

    No, the anti-development BANANAs aren’t progressive. They want to go back to 1950’s Evanston. An exclusive place, like Wilmette or Winnetka. These people have plenty of spare time, so they can go to planning meetings and council meetings and complain, but the rest of us have elected council members to represent us.

    1. Public Benefit?
      Let’s cut to the quick and get to the real issue. This tower is being touted as a “public benefit” and the catalyst to uplift Evanston’s sorry tax base after our leaders have qualified for a Darwin Finance Award.

      Below is an excerpt from a letter to the Council and others from Gwen and Phil Nyden, and is based on testimony by Chief Berkosky before the Plan Commission, where the members voting for approval ignored it.

      “…The most critical component is firefighters for a high-rise incident. The number of firefighters available to respond to the onset of a high-rise fire will have the greatest impact in the mitigation of the event. In Chicago, their initial response to a high-rise incident is 61 firefighters. In Evanston, the most we can send on the initial response is 26 firefighters on any given day. [emphasis added]

      If there was a need to remind Evanstonians that high-rise fires do occur, the very next day in Chicago, on December 13 a fire in a 27-story residential building in Wrigleyville (810 West Grace) required over 150 firefighters and paramedics.

      Chief Berkowsky’s calculations indicate that an additional 35 Evanston firefighters per shift would be required to have the necessary initial responders to an incident in a high-rise structure such as proposed at 708 Church Street. That is, if Evanston approves a high-rise building an additional 105 firefighters will be needed. Looking at the 2007-08 Evanston City Budget, annual fire suppression services—primarily pay and benefits (excluding pension costs)—cost $10,244,600. This means that the average per-employee cost of the 103 full-time-equivalent fire suppression personnel is $99,462 (salaries, benefits, as well as related supplies and services). This does not include pension costs.

      Given Chief Berkowsky’s confirmation of reasonable initial responder numbers, Evanston will need to spend an additional $10,443,510 annually (not including pension costs) if they want to ensure the safety of the residents in the proposed 708 Church building. This is more than double the current fire suppression budget.

      Property tax revenues from the proposed 708 Church building are estimated generously at $3,200,000 per year. This means on the issue of fire protection personnel alone, this building would cost the city almost $7,000,000 per year. This does not even start to consider the cost of new fire stations to house these firefighters and new equipment to be used by these new personnel. This would be an enormous tax burden to be borne by Evanston taxpayers.

      While some might argue that we could get help from Chicago and neighboring suburbs, let me underscore Chief Berkowsky’s clarification that this is a need for 61 initial responders. The additional five, ten, or 20 minutes that would be needed to get additional firefighters on the scene from neighboring communities may very well be the difference between life and death for residents or the firefighters themselves who have inadequate support in addressing a fire or other incident in the building. As noted above, last week’s fire in a Chicago high-rise building smaller than the proposed tower required 150 fire suppression personnel and paramedics to insure the safety of the residents…”

      Can someone please tell me where the “public benefit” is?

  10. Evanston’s a world apart
    Evanston may be close to Chicago but it’s a world apart. Much of Evanston’s old NIMBY guard is comprised of pseudo-intellectuals whose detox diets and intense meditation regimines are better suited to a Boulder or Sedona. Thankfully, the old guard is slowly being replaced by working professionals, families looking for an urban setting with good schools, and empty nesters. In other words, by real people. To the old guard, this isn’t just about a tall building. This is the final straw that will make Evanston maintstream again. Expect them to fight this tooth and nail until the building is topped out.

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