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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.

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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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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2 Comments

  1. Whole area needs new planning
    When the city agreed to this development more than a decade ago, they really dropped the ball in terms of requiring sensible design.

    Putting a box-type of strip mall in the middle of a residential neighborhood was a disaster. The building setbacks make it off-putting to pedestrians; the site has too much parking; and the “architecture” is deplorable.

    The same thing goes for the businesses on the north side of Dempster.

    It reflects a general trend in how the city sets different standards for west-side development. Each of the west commercial corridors (Howard, Oakton, Dempster) all have poorly planned “sprawl”-style development that is not consistent with the design standards downtown, along Chicago Ave., Central St., etc…

    The question now is what should the city do about it?

    First, they should establish a long range master plan for the Dempster/Dodge corridor.

    Some contiguous areas have been included in the West Side TIF plan–which is generally good. It is natural that Dempster/Dodge should be the next major area that the city takes on. It would redress the lack of attention paid to that part of the city while planning efforts have been concentrated on Chicago, the Lakefront, and Downtown.

    This long range planning should encourage integration of uses–as opposed to the segregation that has contributed to the downfall of Freed’s Evanston Plaza.

    Ideally, it would be nice to see a reconfiguration of that entire parcel to have gridded streets, two/three story buildings with retail & commercial on the ground floor and condos on the top.

    This would also require an upgrade of the pedestrian environment along Dempster and Dodge which currently is deplorable.

    Dempster is a major thoroughfare for people entering the city–it is a black eye on our civic culture that such an ugly stretch of road “welcomes” visitors. We should, instead try and encourage the area to become a showpiece and reflective of city’s committment to encouraging good design throughout the town.

    1. Logical planning
      Guess that means you will never be in City government.

      I, for one, agree with everything stated in your comment. Kudos for using your gray matter.

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