Quantcast

Retailers unhappy at Evanston Plaza

plaza-sign-090924IMG_7451.jpg

Several owners of businesses at Evanston Plaza complained to the city’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday night about high common area maintenance charges at the center.

plaza-sign-090924IMG_7451.jpg
A worker repairs a sign at the plaza this morning.

The shopping center, at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, has been plagued by high vacancy rates for years, and the committee had asked Dennis Harder, a senior vice president at the center’s owner, Joseph Freed & Associates, to explain what the firm is doing to attract more tenants and increase the sales tax revenue the city receives from the property.

But the focus shifted to concerns of current tenants in the audience at the meeting.


Several owners of businesses at Evanston Plaza complained to the city’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday night about high common area maintenance charges at the center.

plaza-sign-090924IMG_7451.jpg
A worker repairs a sign at the plaza this morning.

The shopping center, at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, has been plagued by high vacancy rates for years, and the committee had asked Dennis Harder, a senior vice president at the center’s owner, Joseph Freed & Associates, to explain what the firm is doing to attract more tenants and increase the sales tax revenue the city receives from the property.

But the focus shifted to concerns of current tenants in the audience at the meeting.

Dr. Andie Pearson, whose Holistic Dental Care practice is located in the center, said she’d asked for an audit of the maintenance charges and has never gotten what she’d asked for.

Lenny Rago, an owner of Panino’s Pizzeria, said Freed “does a very nice job of maintaining the property” but the charges “have gotten out of line and are going to scare new tenants away.”

Rago said his maintenance charges now total as much as his rent.

And Steve Rashid, husband of Dance Center Evanston director Bea Rashid, said he’s “extraordinarily unhappy” with the charges and that a brief meeting he had with a representative of the property owner about the issue left him “not feeling any better.”

“The explanation offered truly didn’t make sense,” Rashid said.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, whose 2nd Ward includes the shopping center, offered to organize a separate meeting with the tenants and Freed management, and both sides adjourned to the hallway to schedule that session.

plaza-vacant-090924IMG_7471.jpg
Many shops at the plaza remain vacant.

Freed has also come under fire recently for unpaid real estate taxes on the property, and the committee discussed the possibility of withholding sales tax rebate payments that the city had agreed to give the developer in return for improvements made to the property if the real estate taxes remain unpaid.

Harder said the tax payments have not been made “because of our agreements with various banks” and that under current economic conditions the banks “were in control of all decisions and payouts” by the center’s owner.

Dennis Marino, the city’s interim community development director, said city staff has had two brief meetings with the property owner about the tax issue “and will have a third that will be more substantial.”

But despite those comments, it appears at least some of the overdue taxes have been paid.

plaza-tax-payment-090924.gif

The Cook County Treasurer’s office website shows that first installment 2008 taxes that came due March 3 were finally paid on Sept. 4.

It couldn’t be determined from the website whether taxes from the 2007 tax year that were due in 2008 have also been paid.

Harder said officials at Dominicks, the supermarket that recently remodeled its store at the plaza, have seen an increase in sales and the store is now drawing customers from a wider area. “They’re gratified” with the improvements, Harder added.

He also said that two new tenants are about to open — a Veterans Administration center and a Subway fast food shop.

plaza-subwayIMG_7466.jpg
The sandwich shop about to open in what most recently had been a bar-b-que restaurant.

But he conceded that at least a couple of other small tenants are likely to leave the center soon.

Harder said, “It’s been a challenge to demonstrate to potential national retail tenants that there is the market here that they expect.” He said most consider the plaza “a secondary or tertiary market” that they’ll only consider after they’ve rejected other locations.

Some of the existing tenants also complained about a lack of foot traffic at the center and said they’re only able to survive because of their own marketing efforts.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city’s economic development staff could help provide “leakage study” information — data on what types of businesses are drawing people from Evanston to other communities, and help Evanston Plaza and other commercial landlords here target potential tenants who could plug those gaps.

Editors’ Picks