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Theater trumps restaurant plan at outpost site

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The owners of the Good to Go restaurant on the Chicago side of Howard Street learned this week that a key Evanston alderman wasn't "good to go" with their plans to move into the former Evanston police outpost building at 633 Howard.

Evanston city officials issued a request for proposals for the outpost and a second city-owned property at 727-29 Howard in March and received responses from two businesses — one for each of the properties.

But between then and now Strawdog Theater Company, which the city hopes to lure to a planned Howard Street theater building, failed to find temporary office and rehearsal space, although it did find a temporary performance space on the Chicago side of Howard.

Strawdog's current rented space, at 3829 N Broadway in Chicago, is scheduled to be demolished this summer.

That left Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, adamant at Wednesday's Economic Development Committee meeting that Good to Go Jamaican Cuisine should not get the outpost building and that the city should rent it to Strawdog instead, for some indeterminate term until the new theater on Howard is available.

Ann Rainey.

Rainey argued Good to Go didn't have financing for the move, claimed Evanston shouldn't poach businesses from Chicago and then suggested the restaurant's owners should look for a different place in Evanston.

Good to Go co-owner Lenice Levy said she had as much assurance of financing, from Wintrust Bank, as any business could get without having a lease for the property, and said that she wants to move the business to Evanston, where she and her co-owner and husband Tony Levy live, before the lease on her current space at 1947 W Howard St. runs out in three years.

Other alderman tried to put a happier face on the situation. Aldeman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said, "This is a great problem for us to have" — having three businesses competing for two locations on the long-depressed stretch of Howard.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested working with Good to Go. "Perhaps the timing will work perfectly with Strawdog exiting the outpost. The idea we have someone interested in owning property on Howard is fantastic. It's wonderful to have this business ready to move into Evanston.

"I think we should have staff continue to work with you," she told Levy, "and get a better sense of how long Strawdog needs the space."

Braithwaite said he goes to the restaurant quite a bit and that he hoped that, even if not on Howard, Good to Go could find a place in Evanston.

Levy responded that she was concerned about a possible increase in interest rates in the future and would prefer to lock down a deal soon that would let her own a building. She also said that, based on an unsatisfactory previous try to branch out to a location in downtown Evanston, she wanted to stay on or near Howard, where her current customer base is.

"If we can stay on Howard it would allow us to continue our growth pattern," Levy said.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, challenged Rainey's concerns about "poaching" from Chicago. "These are Evanstonians who should be in Evanston," he said.

Ultimately the committee approved a motion proposed by member Matt Rodgers that city staff give priority to finding a suitable location for Good to Go — whether it ends up being at the outpost site after Strawdog leaves, or somewhere else in south Evanston.

Maureen Broom

Meanwhile, the proposal from Joel Ingegno and Maureen Broom for the 727-29 Howard St. property moved forward without any objections from the committee.

Broom, who's director of dining services at Lincolnwood Place, and Ingegno, who's executive chef at Mather LifeWays, are planning to call their business "Evolve" and describe the concept as "a contemporary American restaurant and live music venue" that will feature jazz and blues artists.

But city staff said they'll have to do further due diligence on the Evolve proposal before it will be ready for review by the City Council.

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