Evanston’s Economic Development Committee this week reviewed a set of priorities for implementing the “Evanston Thrives” report designed to strengthen the city’s retail districts.

As outlined in a presentation prepared by the city’s economic development staff, the top 10 overall priorities are:

  1. Placemaking equipment – portable stages, adirondacks, firepits, etc.
  2. Establishing clear gateways at the entrance to each business district.
  3. Downtown theater and outdoor dining plaza at 909 Davis St. — lighting, sidewalk, furniture.
  4. Refocus the storefront modernization program.
  5. A “picnic edge” for Central Street East with tables and chairs.
  6. Downtown Theater plaza – “active intersection.”
  7. Improved seating area on Noyes Street.
  8. Larger, more consistent and visible public parking signage and wayfinding.
  9. Pilot a community events fund to initiate more events in public spaces.
  10. Prioritizes streetscape enhancements along critical pathways.

The presentation also provides separate priority breakdowns for citywide programs and for projects in nine different business districts.

The “Evanston Thrives” report, unveiled in March, was developed with a city-hired consulting firm.

Committee members at Wednesday night’s EDC meeting.

The new staff report estimates that implementing the top 20 project priorities across the city would cost about $2.4 million — not counting some projects for which cost estimates have not yet been determined.

At least a portion of that money is expected to come from what’s left of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The city’s economic development manager, Paul Zalmezak, said the priority list was developed based on surveys of EDC members and representatives of local business districts.

Committee members seemed generally satisfied with the priority list, and Zalmezak said he would start bringing specific funding requests to the group’s next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 25.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said as the meeting was concluding that she was glad to see the project moving forward.

At Wednesday’s meeting the committee also indicated support for a proposal from Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) and Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) to add a second Evanston business owner to the committee, along with four non-voting ex-officio members to represent the three existing special service areas in the city — Downtown Evanston, Main Dempster Mile and Central Street — as well as the planned new Howard Street SSA.

That proposal will now go to the Referrals Committee and the City Council.

The EDC now is composed of six council members, an economic development professional, one business owner and a liaison to the MWEBE Committee.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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