Tower model

Tower project opponents have portrayed local business owners as big losers if the 49-story building is added to Evanston’s downtown Fountain Square block.

But some local merchants and service providers weren’t buying the victim role when they testified at the Plan Commission hearing on the project Thursday.

Daniel Kelch, owner of Lulu’s restaurant at 804 Davis St., said of claims high-rise developments have a negative effect on small businesses “nothing could be further from the truth.

He listed a string of local shops — some in business 10 or 20 years — that have moved into retail spaces in new buildings that opponents say would be financially out of their reach.

And he said even one of the stores expected to be displaced by the Fountain Square project, 57th Street Bookcase & Cabinet, has already found a new storefront at 604 Davis St.

He added, “I understand the financing when these big projects come along. Financial institutions are not going to give big money to developers based on the retail asperiations of a shoestring startup.”

So, he said, there will be a mix of larger chains and small local businesses, “but not all chains are bad — look at Whole Foods or Barnes & Noble.”

He said that in some cases local shops have replaced outposts of big chains that failed. “Retail is always fluid and changing,” Mr. Kelch said, “and the independent business people of Evanston now how to seize an opportunity when they see it.”

“The baseline cause of downtown’s success is residential density and more development happening downtown. That’s integral to the health and longevity of small merchants,” he added.

Jeremy Kudan, a real estate broker focusing on restaurants and other commercial properties, said Evanston is well equipped to handled the additional people the tower development would bring and said it will provide additional revenue and visitors to the city’s cultural institutions.

Warren Walker, owner of Atmosphere Communications Inc., a wireless Internet service provider at 820 Davis St., said the tower project would help provide a vital environment in which businesses like his can grow.

He said that in his business he’s had the good fortune to see Evanston from the rooftops of tall buildings. “Evanston is beautiful,” he said, “with the lakefront, a vibrant downtown and the neighborhoods all around.”

“We can’t leave out any one of these elements if Evanston is going to make it in the 21st Century,” he said.

Jim Marsh, who operates a marketing business, Grotto Communications, from his home at 821 Brummel St., said his business serves a lot of firms in downtown Evanston.

He said he’d been skeptical of the Sherman Plaza project, but said it’s the best thing that’s happened for his business. He said he has a lot of clients in the development and can park in the garage and walk to visit other clients elsewhere downtown.

“We’re not going to be losing business in Evanston as a result of this project,” he said. “People who have a business here are going to want to stay and they’ll find a place to stay in Evanston” — whether downtown or in one of the neighborhood business districts.

But not all business owners who spoke favored the tower.

Michael Poulos, a condo owner at 1416 Hinman Ave. who said he operates several businesses in space he rents at 1734 Sherman Ave., said his businesses would lose traffic now generated by shops at 708 Church St.

He decried what he called speculative pressures driven by the prospect of a successful high-rise project that have driven up downtown property costs. The change “only benefit the landowners” while forcing office tenants to pay “ever higher taxes,” Mr. Poulos said.

And Dr. Stamata Blanas, a dentist with offices in the Carlson Building who also lives downtown, called the Fountain Square block the “golden triangle” that she said would be destroyed if the professionals in the 708 Church St. building are forced to move.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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3 Comments

  1. innovate or Stagnate
    Hi Bill,

    What I said is the “golden triangle” is the core of our city and the building in this triangle should reflect the character of the Evanston community. I said it should remained zoned commercial and not rezoned for more condos and eateries. Enclosed is my speech.

    Innovate or Stagnate?
    This is the stark reality facing Evanston right now. The way we do business, how we relate to the needs of the community and the way we define the quality of our daily life. These will decide the character of the community we are developing.
    Evanston is an intellectual capital, the 3rd most educated city in the US with an enviable lifestyle and great location. But we are a community looking for a direction.
    When Robert Frost wrote “two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both…..I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” He could have been talking about us. We have choices.
    At present a 49 story condo project is being considered for development in the core of our city, the golden triangle. The issue many feel is about height and density but it goes much deeper then that. It’s about the direction our city is taking as we head into the 21stcentury. The path we choose will define the character of our city for decades to come.
    The one path is to stagnate,
    The community will be a comfortable place to live, but bloated from and overabundance of condos, rentals units and eateries. From this road we will watch other cities and college towns embracing future opportunities, while we continue to fallow last century’s agenda.
    The other path is to innovate and become a vibrant global community.
    We need to create the jobs of tomorrow and market our city to the rest of the world. We need to leverage our intellectual capital to move forward. We need to develop and build corporate centers that support the current and future technology. We need to work with developers willing to see our vision. We need to enforce our zoning laws and keep commercial property commercial. Our greatest asset is our intellect and the future is the business of knowledge. Kellogg Business School is a 200 million a year enterprise. It’s successful because it’s smart.
    As a city we need a vision and a new economic development plan that is driven by core values consistently applied, not special interests. We need to make the decisions and take actions that support that vision for the decades to come. Most importantly, we need to bring political representatives, stakeholders and private citizens together. Only by working together can we make it happen.
    As President John F. Kennedy said, “Let us begin.”
    Thank you

    1. “Innovate or Stagnate” may
      “Innovate or Stagnate” may be true, but it’s hard to see how “stagnation” equates to creating more room for well-educated professionals to live downtown and for the introduction of restaurants that help maintain Evanston’s status as an elite foodie city.

      And to “Innovate” apparently means to not do anything and shut down projects that change the status quo?

      Somebody needs to swap their book of famous quotes for a dictionary.

  2. Businesses vs. Professionals and the “Tower”
    In my opinion, the article about businesses supporting the proposed 708 Church development is a bit mis-leading. Firstly, not ALL business owners in downtown Evanston support the proposed tower. A couple of business owners, led by Jonathan Perman, argued their case that the displacement of “businesses” would not have a negative effect on downtown and that it would actually be a good thing for most businesses.

    While I don’t buy the argument for a minute, they are welcome to their opinions.

    However…. there has got to be a clear distinction between retail businesses and the plethora of individual professional practitioners that would be displaced if the proposal were approved. I empathize with retail business owners who would be displaced, but their number is small compared to the number of professional office spaces that would be removed from downtown. Has anyone asked, or reported, on any of these practitioners and where they will go? I have my doubts how many of them belong to the Chamber, so I feel they are probably not being represented by the handful of business owners who testified.

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