Rock climbing gym or foodie event space?

A rendering showing a climbing wall in the former recycling center.

Evanston's Economic Development Committee is scheduled tonight to recommend one of two new uses for the city's long-vacant recycling center -- either a rock-climbing gym or a multi-use food hall and event space.

The rock climbing proposal from Clark Street Real Estate and First Assent Climbing and Fitness scored 84 of 100 points in a evaluation by city staff of the proposals for the site at 2222 Oakton St., while the food hall concept from owners of the Peckish Pig restaurant on Howard Street in Evanston drew 68 points.


A rendering of the Palmhouse Productions concept.

The rock-climbing proposal calls for Clark Street Real Estate to buy the recycling center site for $1 million and spend between $1 million and $1.5 million on infrastructure and renovation costs. First Ascent, as Clark Street's tenant, would spend $750,000 on furniture, fixtures and equipment. Soft costs for the project are estimated at $300,000.

First Ascent has four existing rock-climbing facilities in Chicago and another under construction in Arlington Heights.

Palmhouse proposes a two-phase development. Phase one, called Palmhouse Parties, would create a 7,000-square-foot private event space with seating for about 300 guests at an estimated cost of $420,000. Phase two, Palmhouse Provisions would add a 5,000-square-foot food hall and vendor market with an estimated development cost of $80,000.

Palmhouse proposes to rent the building from the city for $168,000 a year.

A staff memo to the committee suggests that Palmhouse may be underestimating the cost of the project while it says Clark Street's experience with adaptive reuse projects suggests their cost estimates are more realistic and that Clark Street's access to significant funds presents a strong and viable project.

It notes that the Palmhouse team has demonstrated ability to complete challenging projects in new markets but says they haven't demonstrated that there is a market in the area to support a food hall concept.

Whatever the EDC committee recommends during its meeting at 7:30 p.m. at the Civic Center, it will be up to the City Council to decide whether to move forward with either of the proposals.

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