Fountain Square tower

The plan for what would be suburban Chicago’s tallest building will go under review by Evanston’s Plan Commission next month.

The developers of Sherman Plaza unveiled in April plans for a 49-story condo tower on the site of the two-story 708 Church St. building.

Developers Tim Anderson and James Klutznick say the new building would have two floors of retail and three levels of parking at the base.

The developers are scheduled to make an informal presentation of their plans at a community meeting at the Civic Center at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 1.

The Plan Commission will start it’s formal review of the proposal a week later on Aug. 8. 

The developers propose that the city use incremental tax revenue from the tower to pay for acquisition of the seven-story Fountain Square building at the south end of the block and redeveloping that site with an expanded plaza and a smaller retail building that likely would house a restaurant.

The landmarked three-story Hahn building at mid-block would be untouched by the development proposal.

The current incarnation of the Fountain Square plaza was built as a bicentennial project in the 1970s and now suffers from decaying masonry and broken fountains. The City Council voted last month to spend an estimated $224,000 to fix it up.

Mr. Anderson said that when the developers met with the City Council in executive session earlier this year to discuss the implications of the project for the city-owned plaza, the aldermen indicated they wanted the city to be in charge of building a new plaza.

“This can be the financial engine to support acquisition of the Fountain Square building to expand the plaza and make an outdoor living room for downtown Evanston,” Mr. Anderson said.

A controversy over the executive session has led to charges that the meeting violated the state’s open meetings law.

Mr. Anderson said the same tax increment financing district covers both Sherman Plaza and the Fountain Square block. “That TIF ends in 2018. This project would probably be up by 2010 or so. That means there’s only eight years of increment revenue available. So if the city waits five years to do this, the increment won’t be there to do Fountain Square. There’s just a short window of opportunity,” he added.

When they announced the project, the developers said they hoped the Plan Commission would start reviewing it in June and that they’d be able to start construction late next year.

Evanston developer Robert Horner this month withdrew his plans for a second condo tower on the same block citing community opposition as one of the reasons for his decision.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. What has happened to Evanston?
    As an Evanston native now living temporarily in Zurich, Switzerland, I look on with sadness at what’s happening to our city. Evanston used to be a rather unique antidote the the “mallification” of America — a big suburban town with a well preserved Victorian center, bustling with thriving independent shops and restaurants.

    Now I watch from a distance as it suffers the same fate as all other towns in America. Soon it will lose what little charm it once had, and join the ranks of the countless boring, ugly suburban towns, crammed with walmarts, fast food chains, CinePlex 1-thru-12’s and featureless glass towers.

    Reading this article moves me one step closer to selling our home in Evanston and staying in Switzerland.

  2. Tower Hearing – opportunity or charade?
    After attending several downtown planning meetings, I had the initial impression that maybe the City would begin to listen to the groundswell of support for real planning. After the “tower hearing” last night, I have my doubts whether any amount of citizen comment would make a difference. Call me a skeptic, but I heard an awful lot of the same song and dance Evanston residents have been subject to for many “planned developments”.

    Here are some personal observations from the meeting:

    • from all indications, the meeting seemed to be a “dry run” for the developer; a chance to test the waters before they actually got into the approval process
    • when asked why the tower “escaped” the moratorium, there was a lot of back pedaling going on; there was no legal leg to stand on for excluding the tower from the moratorium — there is no pipeline and the developer did not have vested property rights. The council knew this before the final vote to exclude the property from the moratorium.
    • members of the development team seemed to slip up a bit when they kept referring to the meetings with city officials — mostly referring to private or closed meetings which at this point are still under the scrutiny of the Illinois Attorney General
    • during the downtown planning meetings, the comments that kept recurring were to give careful thought to the Fountain Square block and to keep it open and with great attention to the pedestrian experience — not the kind of thing that usually comes from a 49 story tower
    • when asked about public benefits, we heard a weak list which included many items that could not possibly be considered public benefits to grant so many zoning variations. My personal favorite was the “diversity of housing stock” benefit. How a bunch of luxury condominiums are a “diversity” of housing stock is a real mystery.
    • with the new development that heralds the benefits of retail space, there will actually be “less” retail space than currently exists.
    • when questioned about wind and shadow studies, the team said the experts will weigh in, knowing the current situation in that block I have some questions about how much more wind and shadow will be created
    • when asked about parking, the team said there will be enough parking for 1.1 cars per residential unit — no new parking for retail. It seems to me that the folks who are going to purchase luxury housing (roughly $300K to around 2 million for the penthouse units) may have more than 1.1 cars.
    • when asked how sales in other condo developments in Evanston (including Sherman Plaza), the team beamed that nearly every unit in the Plaza was sold. However, the waters were muddied a little when they were asked how many of those were already on the market, or being rented while speculators waited for the market to improve.
    • the developer keeps saying how the window of opportunity is small, opportunity for who??
    • when asked about the problem of affordable “class B” office space being eliminated and the plight of professionals, they claimed that there is plenty of office space available — but were unable to back up their answer with any facts.

    Has a decision already been made behind closed doors? What promises have been given to the developer? The jury is still out. It should be an interesting ride.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.