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Year in review: Recession hits home

The national economic recession was reflected in Evanston’s economy this year. Unemployment rose. Homeowners faced foreclosure. Development projects stalled. But as the year ended, there were some indications the worst might be over.

The national economic recession was reflected in Evanston’s economy this year. Unemployment rose. Homeowners faced foreclosure. Development projects stalled. But as the year ended, there were some indications the worst might be over.

The year started with Smithfield Properties asking for extra time to make improvements to the vacant Kendall College site. But by year’s end a new developer was submitting revised plans for the property to the city

Several other development sites lingered as vacant lots. In January a foreclosure suit was filed against a developer at Main Street and Chicago Avenue.

In April a completed condo development at Emerson Street and Green Bay Road went into foreclosure.

In June owners of a major downtown office building faced suit over allegedly defaulting on a loan, and a rental high-rise project on Howard Street faced a foreclosure suit.

Then in July one of the city’s biggest condo developers filed for personal bankruptcy.

Other builders sought and received extensions of time from the city to start work on their planned developments.

But aldermen finished work on a new downtown plan that took three years to prepare, and, after prolonged debate, they approved plans for a 35-story condominium tower on the Fountain Square block — giving the developers until 2013 to start work.

Homes that went into foreclosure frequently were resold for half their prior value, and the number of foreclosures increased.

But a survey of the city’s homeless population showed only a slight increase.

A national survey by Business Week named Evanston one of the best communities in the nation for start-up businesses, and Forbes magazine dubbed Evanston a great place to live well. But Coldwell-Banker claimed Evanston is among the nation’s most costly college towns.

At mid year it appeared more downtown businesses were closing than opening, but that trend reversed with more new shops opening later in the year.

The local jobless rate peaked in July at 8.4 percent but had eased back to 7.7 percent in November. Evanston’s jobless rate for all of 2008 averaged 4.7 percent.

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