The lot on the southeast corner of the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Main Street has sat vacant for almost four years, but may soon be the site of a new nine-story, mixed-use retail and office building.
The proposed building and its potential effects on the surrounding neighborhood were the focuses of held Thursday night at Lincoln Elementary School, 910 Forest Ave. The assembly opened up the property’s owner, architect and leasing agent to the questions, concerns, and complaints of about 80 Evanston residents in attendance.
Designs on display at the meeting showed a basement level employee parking lot, a first floor with two storefronts and a building lobby, three levels of public parking and five stories of office space complete with two outdoor terraces and floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
Leasing agent Drew Nieman, principal at Colliers International, said he envisions the office space enticing medium-sized businesses and the first floor retail space attracting interest from restaurants, drug stores, banks and small grocery stores.
Several residents expressed concern over whether such a building was worth constructing, arguing that Evanston might already have enough available office space to meet demand and questioning whether an additional property would draw tenants in an already-strained real estate market.
Nieman pointed to the location’s proximity to both CTA Purple Line and Metra train stops as a significant selling point, and argued that there was actually quite little available office space in Evanston.
“There are really seven buildings of what you would construe to be competition [for potential tenants],” Nieman said. “Out of the seven, four are completely leased, meaning less than 2 percent vacancy…The other three buildings have about a 20 percent vacancy, but they have reasons for [those spaces being empty].”
Evanston City Manger Wally Bobkiewicz echoed Nieman’s statements, adding that office and retail space would bring more business to the area than the alternative: apartments or condominiums.
“Businesses really want to be here, but we don’t have the contiguous space,” Bobkiewicz said. “If the developer can’t find tenants, then we’re going to be back to an apartment complex, likely with retail on the first floor. And what we’re saying, from the City’s perspective…is let’s try to find something better. Let’s try to find something that will be an engine for the community, that will bring people here to work, that will bring people here to spend money and to use the property in the highest and best ways.”
In fact, the city is so sure that the new building will bring business to the area that the city council recently voted to give real estate developer OMS Evanston LLC $40,000 to help market the space, a decision opposed by some residents.
Construction would not begin until the building had commitments from several tenants, Nieman said, but later added that during meetings with 11 prospective companies, interest varied and some disliked the location.
Architect Donald Copper, principal at GREC Architects, said he designed the building to “fit into the scale” of the intersection and to coincide with the aesthetics of Chicago Avenue that have developed over the past decade. The building will sit four feet back from the property line, increasing space for pedestrians or landscaping, and will have a “softened corner” near the intersection that doesn’t go out at a right angle.
Evanston resident Jeff Wootton said he thought the building would fit well into the surrounding area.
“I think that this would be a great addition to the neighborhood and for Chicago Avenue,” Wootton said. “I hope the wind is at [the developer’s] back.”
But resident A.M. Klaprat said that the building would be a scar on an already tarnished intersection.
“It looks ugly,” Klaprat said. “It doesn’t seem to fit in the neighborhood…At least the bank is a brick building, which fits in with the neighborhood. [This one’s] all glass. I mean, we have no buildings like that around in the area…They’re putting up buildings [on Chicago Avenue] that stick out like a sore thumb.”
But Nieman said that the design was not set in stone, guaranteeing the "building would be tweaked" before construction.
Other apprehensions voiced at the meeting included concerns over the potential for excess traffic and parking, and the disruption construction might cause.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said there will be a second meeting on the issue on July 21. That meeting is for an unrelated project at Kedzie Street and Chicago Avenue. There are no other public meetings planned on this project at this time.