Evanston Plaza Owner Responds to Patch Readers’ Suggestions

Some are feasible. Others are essentially impossible.

In last week’s inaugural entry to Evanston Patch’s new “Empty in Evanston” series, on what businesses they would like to see fill .

For many, Chicago-based real estate firm Bonnie Investment Group’s sparked hope that the shopping center might soon be revitalized to the glory-days form it enjoyed two decades ago, and the wide range of readers’ enthusiastic responses painted a picture of what the .

Some of the more popular ideas included a bowling alley (49 percent of the vote), a sporting goods store (15 percent of the vote), a health club (11 percent of the vote), a sit-down restaurant (11 percent), a Trader Joe’s (mentioned 11 times in comments), national clothing retailers (Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, Old Navy, JCPenney and Target) and several types of eateries.

After tallying total votes and sorting through the comments, Patch took the results to Scott Inbinder, principal at Bonnie Investment Group, to ask him which suggestions were feasible, which were improbable and which were downright impossible.

Because , the grocery store that currently anchors the shopping center, has a lease that prohibits various types of businesses from taking root in the plaza, many of Inbinder’s answers were tentative, as Dominick’s would have to sign off to allow them to come. The list of restricted uses could shrink in the near future, though, as Inbinder said that Dominick’s had indicated that it might be willing to allow some previously-forbidden businesses to come in the interest of reviving the plaza.

Read through Inbinder’s responses below:

Bowling alley: “A bowling alley is a prohibited use under the Dominick’s lease. I’m not sure whether it’s a prohibited used under our zoning. So that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t do it. It means that we certainly need approval in order to do it. Secondly, I don’t have any companies that run bowling alleys knocking on my door. So it doesn’t appear that there’s a retailer that desires to be here.”

Sporting goods store: “A sporting goods store would be great.”

Health club: “We have had health club interest…I think it is a possibility. Again, there is a restriction in the Dominick’s lease. There has been some previous conversations with Dominick’s from the prior landlord, I believe, asking for prospective consent to put a health club in the center, and I think that is definitely a possibility.”

Sit-down restaurant: “Some food is prohibited under the Dominick’s lease because they find it competitive to the sale of their eat-in café area. So to the extent that they believe it would hurt sales in the café area, it may be prohibited. And I have not been approached by any sit down restaurants to go into the center. So it’s a nice use, but you have to find a retailer with the desire to be there.”

Trader Joe’s: “That’s a totally prohibited use under the Dominick’s lease. They have a grocery exclusive. We would not be able to do that, and frankly, why would we want to hurt Dominick’s sales? They’re our anchor. Dominick’s is 60,000 square feet. Trader Joe’s is only 15,000 to 20,000 [square feet].”

Large retailers: “We would certainly be very interested in a lot of these national clothing retailers. But, certainly the ones you’ve suggested, typically want to be in a more regional location, so they would look at Old Orchard [shopping mall] or downtown Evanston. Ours is more of a neighborhood use, so it’s going to be a retailer that doesn’t believe that they’re going to overlap with a store that they have in one of those other locations. Or it’s going to be a tenant that’s looking for a dense urban location, but one where they’re going to draw from a smaller trade area.”

Starbuck’s: “Starbucks is prohibited under the lease.”

Library outpost: “Presuming that’s something we can put in the center under the zoning, I would love a library.”

State office: “I have some restriction on the size of office use. But to the extent that it’s something that I can do that, I welcome it. We do have a federal VA clinic in there already.”

Current interest: “We are out soliciting the center, so we have yet to get any significant interest, but we have had health club interest, we have had interest from a number of smaller fast food type users, we’ve had interest from some office users. It takes time and patience and hopefully we’ll get it leased.”

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Marisa Naujokas February 16, 2012 at 02:47 PM
It's unfortunate that Dominick's prohibits a bowling alley. Our teens need more offerings for activities nearby. And just because the bowling alleys aren't coming to Mr. Inbinder, it doesn't mean that he can't go to them.Furthermore, I can understand why they would not want Trader Joe's, but a bolwing alley? Really? Perhaps for its own health, Dominick's should look again at the restrictions that they are putting on the center. That might be contributing to the problem.
Marisa Naujokas February 16, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Can Inbinder put business names on the Plaza sign? I know they usually charge businesses, but for the sake of appearing healthy and robust, filling up those empty slots on the sign could be worth more than the amount of money he would get from the businesses.
J C February 16, 2012 at 02:51 PM
.....The land of the Restricted ....And the home of the Excluded......
J C February 16, 2012 at 02:58 PM
With the economy the way it is, Maybe a pawn shop and a cash for gold place?
Charlene Bos February 16, 2012 at 03:46 PM
The names are on the signs and always have been. Every type of business has made an attempt to exist in the Evanston Plaza. JC Penney had an order store at one time. Fashion Bug and Payless tried it twice and the manager of the shoe store called it "mistake by the lake." Evanston YMCA tried a block away on Dodge and Greenleaf. The point is not just filling the spaces with stores, it is to fill the stores with customers. We did not support the Plaza in the past, why would a potential occupant trust we would do it in this economy? How many of you have tried to buy something at Citi Trends? Even a pair of socks would show our support and some of the sales tax goes to Evanston. Running a business in Evanston is no piece of cake but you can buy a really delicious one at our local Dominick's.
J February 16, 2012 at 03:48 PM
It's very short-sighted to assume that plaza can only draw from a small region. And are you so sure of the limitations of what even the adjacent region might be glad to have there? Dempster & McCormick are major E-W / N-S artieries, & the mall is much closer to the expwy (I-94) than downtown Evanston. Look at the shopping ctr @Touhy & McCormick. Once a languishing, out of the way mall. Got a makeover, built up w/desirable shops, & now it's a thriving destination. Build it and they will come. But you need to make sure the shops are worth coming for. NOT a repeat of something already in or near Old Orchard (LL Bean, Old Navy). I still vote for Eddie Bauer. Customer base exists (e.g. LLBean & North Face success), & nearest one is currently far away. If you limit your vision to stores w/limited marketability, you're ensuring a limited market. That means less profit & less stability, & perpetuating the mall's downward spiral. The only reason people don't travel to that mall, with its easy accessibility & free parking, is that there isn't anything worth traveling there FOR. It's a self-fulfulling prophecy that you seem determined to perpetuate. And the LAST thing I'd want to see is another fast food restaurant. That strip of Dempster is already a fast food mecca, basically a part of town that is invisible (or rather, an eyesore) to any health conscious consumers. Not to mention the gang hangout those places tend to be (shooting at McDonalds across the street just last year).
Charlene Bos February 16, 2012 at 04:10 PM
The shopping center at Touhy and McCormick is in no way similar to the Evanston Plaza. The shopping center at Howard and Western would be a good comparison because that was turned around successfully. Those stores are drawing customers and the parking lot is always busy. Not the kind of stores on our wish list? I run into people from our area down there all the time. Unfortunately we sound like the ugly stepsisters trying to cram our feet into the glass slipper. The suggested stores will not move into Evanston Plaza no matter how much we want them to fit. Many of them are moving away from all brick and mortar locations into internet sales. Let's get real!
lucas February 16, 2012 at 04:39 PM
City probably wouldn't give a bowling Alley a Liquor License
JT February 16, 2012 at 09:35 PM
What about a craft store? There hasn't been one there in over 10 years, I think. Places like Michael's not only have craft items, but offer classes to kids and adults in a variety of areas.
JT February 16, 2012 at 09:37 PM
I couldn't agree more! We've said for years that Evanston should have a bowling alley. Maybe one that provides an area for live music as well a few nights a week. I don't think the City would automatically deny them a liquor license. What if it were just beer & wine? There are a large number of license types. It's so frustrating that Dominick's has this whole plaza locked down but with so many restrictions on what can be there. If they are going to be so restrictive, maybe they should pay more! Also, I'd like to see the Plaza owner conducive to offering space to locally-owned businesses if they can. Maybe there are existing businesses in Evanston and surrounding neighborhoods that could use bigger space, free parking for clients, etc. As much as I'd love to have (ex.) an Old Navy there, I'm a Shop Local gal, too!
Debirag February 16, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Theater, cinema, fine arts and performing arts venue, craft store
J C February 17, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Massage parlor, Bail bond front, Title loans, Pawn shop, Cash for gold , Car wash , Store front church, Off track betting , Liquor store , Laundromat , Adult book store , Gun shop , Brothel, Jail, ACORN !
jim February 17, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Most of those will help that mall increase its traffic. Several won't fly by the City Council though
Charlene Bos February 17, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Now you are talking! Bet any of those options would be more interested in occupying space than Eddie Bauer or Lord and Taylor. Was wondering if those who are rolling along (!!) with the bowling alley have bowled lately. The facilities are an enormous investment and attract teens to hang out more than fast food restaurants. Brunswick will never open an alley so close to a high school for that reason alone. The one on Western near Lane Tech is closely monitored. Took up bowling a few years ago and it is not the 50 cents a lane that you might remember. The cost of a night of bowling can be prohibitive. Maybe I can sell my beautiful new purple metallic bowling ball at the new pawn shop because bowling got to be too expensive for me. For a family with children you could drop a chunk of change in one outing. It is a renters market, especially commercial space. Companies have their choice of locations and do intensive research before considering a location. Last Thursday at the Second Ward meeting the man from Bonnie Group was informative and patiently tried to explain how the market works. They would welcome inquiries from all the suggested business types, reach out to others and work to make a deal to rent the spaces. Doubt that they are inundated with interested parties. But what do I know? I have only had a business in Evanston since 1971 and I cannot even afford to bowl.
lucas February 17, 2012 at 01:22 AM
am pretty sure that the new owners of the mall had some plans in mind before they spent millions to purchase it.
Natalie Watson February 17, 2012 at 01:47 AM
How would people feel about a community market and new green space in what is now that enormous parking lot?
Cindy February 17, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Here is what is needed. Do not know how Domnicks and Dunkin Donuts was allowed to have restrictions on what goes in the Plaza. Then Domnicks should have bought the plaza. I suggest we boycott Domnicks and Dunkin Donuts. The curren owners need to sign new leases with Domnicks and Dunkin Donuts. All community members need boycott the plaza until an agreement is reached with the residents is my take.
Charlene Bos February 17, 2012 at 03:06 AM
You have it all wrong. We are praying that Dominick's and everyone else sticks it out. Dominick's is not the culprit here. They might have bailed already except for another 10 years remaining in their lease. We need them more than they need us. That is not a profitable store. They did nothing that all other retail lessees require...make sure that their customers have a place to park. Please do not instigate behavior that could have a negative impact on what the community is trying to accomplish in the Evanston Plaza. Attend meetings to find out the ongoing process we are trying to achieve. I am a great believer in civil disobedience but it is not appropriate in this situation. Sorry.
lucas February 17, 2012 at 03:29 AM
Any food store or any other kind of store would want to protect itself. Have you ever owned a business? Like Charlene said below if it wern't for Dominicks honoring its lease that mall would be like the one in South Burbs they are taking down.
victoria smith February 17, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Has any one thought of a roller rink? There are several suburbs in North Chicago area that my kids go to on the week ends that are packed! When two of the community centers here in Evanston decided to do roller skating on Friday and Saturday nights it really took off. If you took Franks empty space and the one next to it you would have a great area to skate, concession stands, skate rental, lockers, pro shop and arcade. You might be surprised how many kids in this area know how to skate! Check out the movie ":Roll Bounce". Everyone has a great time! You would accomplish getting kids off the street and exercising and it is NOT expensive for an evening of fun! You would also pull other people from neighboring areas as well. It would also open oppportunities for employment. Come on Evanston...Think out of the box! Evanston as we all know does not have anything FUN for kids and families to do! Enough of the coffee shops, book stores, restaurants, rug stores,hair salons, nail spa's!
lucas February 17, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Roller Skating rink probably wouldn't be profitable for a business
Haywood February 17, 2012 at 05:28 PM
"All community members need boycott the plaza until an agreement is reached with the residents is my take." That makes no sense. Let's blackmail the only two companies that are established in a dying mall, instead of making it advantagous for new businesses to move in. You need anchors to make a mall sucessful. You don't make it so restrictive that the good ones leave the area. You obviously have no idea what you are talking about.
jim February 17, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Think residents started boycotting years ago that why its half empty
Charlene Bos February 17, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Meetings, discussions, polls, arguments, good ideas, incredibly stupid ones, too much time and money wasted.......and.... FRED! THANK YOU!!!!THANK YOU!!!THANK YOU!!! YOU GOT IN DOWN TO ONE SENTENCE. We have boycotted our shopping center. Not enough people shop in our own neighborhood. Those that do have gotten great stuff for great deals. They were adventurous enough to at least give those businesses attempting to succeed here a shot. If the neighbors do not shop here, why would anyone bother to make it a destination? We do not have stores in Evanston Plaza in good part because we did not frequent them. Over the years shop owners stared out the window and employees lost their jobs. When driving to Old Orchard or ordering on line, did anyone think about that? Fred out there said it best. Thank you Fred, you made me laugh.
J C February 17, 2012 at 08:05 PM
We seem to be fixated on consumer only , We are seeing the beginning of the failure of a consumer based society. Perhaps we should consider putting in some production type of business , Someone that actually makes something that they sell ?
victoria smith February 18, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Disagree Lucas, if you check out the North Chicago roller rinks like Orbit, you will see that they turn over a profit. It serves the community and not just young people, but older as well. There are still many spaces left in the shopping center to put something else, but as we all have seen, all the other businesses that have come and gone there could have done better if there had been more police survalence, which now we have. I don't think we should limit to only a couple of spaces, we should think out of the box and try and fill all of them. No restaurants though.
Charlene Bos February 18, 2012 at 04:04 PM
We do not have police surveillance. That was the misunderstanding when the Dominick's outpost was proposed. Police touch base there but do not have manpower or resources delegated that would be required to monitor a roller rink. If a bowling alley with designated lanes can pose a threat for problems, imagine a roller rink with the potential for physical contact. Everyone has a wish list for the Plaza, what they want and do not want. Bet the new owners have a wish list too. They wish the phone would ring with potential ANYTHING.
jim February 18, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Ugo or zipcar spots,. place for electric car recharging, taste of the NorthShore festival, Local car dealers display new cars occasionally, FLEA MARKET


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