Nine-Story, Mixed-Use Building Proposed for Chicago and Main Site

Evanston residents met with property developers and city officials to discuss a proposed nine-story office and retail building that would be built on the southeast corner of the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Main Street.

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.

"They're letting developers privatize profits and socialize risk,” said resident Kevin O’Connor in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

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.

Additionally, Copper designed the building with the hope of gaining an environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification from the U.S. Green Buildings Council.

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.

Richard Schulte June 24, 2011 at 11:43 AM
The developer, leasing agent and architect for the project made an excellent presentation. This is just what Evanston needs. Bravo to the Evanston Economic Development Department for "out of the box" thinking in these miserable economic times. Alderman Wynne and the City Manager also did a good job with the presentation last night. Thumbs up!!! Just a note, the design of the building is in its preliminary stages and the renderings of the building displayed were just one idea of what the building may eventually look like. The design of the building isn't finished, it's just beginning. The only complaint that I have is with the height of building. The zoning height restrictions limit the building height to 105 feet, but a taller building might make more sense financially. A 60 story building on that site would be fine with me, but adding one or two stories might help the economics of the building. Remember, this building is not a done deal. If the building doesn't work from a financial standpoint, the building won't get built. If approving a zoning variance to allow increasing the height by a few stories is what it takes to bring the project to fruition, then let's approve the height variance without a "cat fight". The height restrictions are just aribtrary restrictions anyway. Thumbs up!!!
Frank June 24, 2011 at 12:25 PM
I agree with Richard. We need ANY new revenue that can be created for the city with all of the budget issues. The retail space could bring in some tax revenue. The office space could create new jobs, or at least jobs that are new to Evanston (because the companies would potentially be moving from other area locations). The rendering of the building in this article looks good to me. The LEED certification would be a bonus if it can be attained. It could help set the tone for future projects in the area. Let's help our community grow and prosper and not be known as a community that finds fault with everything and everyone that hasn't been here for generations.
mij June 24, 2011 at 01:04 PM
It's quite obvious the owner hand this proposal in the works long before the city council approved the $40,000. Which I think should be questions more since the reasoning give doesn't fit. The skitches of the proposal look good but have to see what developes over time since this is first meeting. I don't think it fits location most might want downtown location. The original proposal from developer that went under was like this only condos,bank and retail. Lots of tax revenue from condos. Shame they went under.
Richard Schulte June 24, 2011 at 01:09 PM
"Let's help our community grow and prosper and not be known as a community that finds fault with everything and everyone that hasn't been here for generations." And I agree with Frank! Note that the rendering may not be what the building finally looks like. The developers will certainly try to accomodate any reasonable request from the residents in the area, but, in the end, the project has to be economically viable. (Remember that a mule is actually a horse designed by a committee. Let's let the building design to the architect so that we won't end up with a mule, instead of a horse. Don't get me wrong-I love mules, but nobody goes to see mules race.) If residents want to impose unrealistic demands on the project, the developers will simply walk away and we will be left with a vacant lot or a Walgreen's or CVS. (Not that there is anything wrong with a Walgreen's or CVS.) In this economy, we need to be very thankful that a developer is willing to look at this site and work with the City. The Evanston Economic Development staff is thinking "out of the box". That's what it takes in this economy. Good job EED staff.
Festus McMoron June 24, 2011 at 03:47 PM
...richard, build that 60 story building downtown where it was planned for. we need young professional people to move to evanston who might otherwise look at areas like lincoln park. with the metra and the 'l' so close by it should be an easy sell. also, now that the gangs have taken over north ave. and oak st. beaches, our lakefront becomes an easy selling point. they'd get alot more bang for their buck in evanston. i say make evanston the 'new lincoln park' of the north shore.
Richard Schulte June 24, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Festus, I agree 100 percent with your comment. To make this project economically viable, the building may have to be a few stories higher than proposed last night. In order to increase the height, a zoning variance will be required. If the developer would like a few extra stories, I say bend over backwards to accomodate the developer. A 12 story building (an additional 36 feet) on that corner would be fine. The Evanston Building Code (and the Life Safety Code also adopted by the City of Evanston) considers the building as proposed to be a high rise building. The high rise building provisions require additional fire protection which will cost between $500 thousand and $1 million to provide. Spreading the cost of complying with the high rise fire protection requirements over 12 stories, rather than 9 stories, helps the developer. If the economics of the building don't work, the building will not be built. And that's why it's important to accomodate the developer with a height variance if needed. Hopefully, the "just say no" crowd in Evanston will see the benefit of the proposal to the entire City. 60 stories is fine with me, but I'm more than happy with 9 stories or 12 stories. Whatever the developer needs to make the project work. . .
John C Thomson June 24, 2011 at 04:52 PM
I don't like the design of the building for that location so I hope it is changed. Ofcourse I didn't like the building across the street for its heighth either but who am I, just somebody who has lived here in the neighborhood for 33 years. The building on the corner of Kedzie and Chicago Ave also looks out of place and how long are the shuttered businesses across the street going to stay there looking miserable. If the politicians hadn't gotten us in this financial mess in the first place, well thats a dead horse to beat. My health suggests I'll be gone before this monstrosity gets built so who cares.
Richard Schulte June 24, 2011 at 05:10 PM
"My health suggests I'll be gone before this monstrosity gets built so who cares." John, please don't leave us so soon. We need all of your wisdom and experience to help guide us. BTW, I'm headed to Florida to scout out Pensacola and Panama Beach next week. I hear that the beaches are heavenly and stretch for hundreds of miles. If the economy doesn't get any better around here, I guess I'll have to buy a beach umbrella and lap top and live/work from the beach. I wonder if the Post Office delivers to beach umbrellas. Regards- Richard
Bob Piron June 24, 2011 at 05:19 PM
I would like to say thank you to all involved in the planning of this building for finally recognizing the difficulty locall businesses have with the over stressed street parking in this area by designing in public parking. S.E. Evanston is the most densely populated areas in the city. A study done in the late 90's showed that, at any given time 94 to 96% of available street parking was consumed. Whether the parking is drive in with meters, 12 hour commutor or monthly rate parking, any removal of parking stress is good. Customers will find it easier to get to us, increase sales which in turn increases sales tax revenue and relieves the parking issue. There is nothing worse than hearing from a customer that they tried to get here but was unable to find a place to park! Thank you all for thinking of us. This is an example of how a conscientious government should work. Well done
Festus McMoron June 24, 2011 at 05:40 PM
...." I wonder if the Post Office delivers to beach umbrellas". no, but fedx does. vacationed with sister and bro-in-law and every morning fedx pulled into the driveway at house we rented, driver walked down to beach and b-i-l signed for his package.. talk about a working vacation. he sat on the beach and traded soybeans.
mij June 24, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Seems to me i've heard that an apartment complex is to be built next door to this lot. How high is thatgoing to be? What do the people on the two North side of that intersection. I believe the 900 Chicago Ave have vacant stores. It's not all the problems with the ecomony either
Marci June 25, 2011 at 06:11 AM
I love having that empty field to run around after I get a bit too hopped up on Brothers K coffee, yet I would much rather see some more businesses and retail within walking distance to my neighborhood that don't include rug stores and more Autobarn complexes. I agree with others that I don't like the initial design of the building, but I hope that the builders will work with the community to find something that matches the neighborhood. There is great potential in South Evanston. This location is so close to public transit in a very populated portion of Evanston. I love the Junior League Thrift House, but it would be nice to have some other shops around here to spend my money. In the new design it may be nice to include some more green space though if we want to keep Evanstonians happy. Maybe have a rooftop garden for local people to buy fresh produce. A girl can dream, right?
Richard Schulte June 25, 2011 at 11:55 AM
Money doesn't grow on trees and you need a "money tree" to grow vegetables on the roof of a building. Dirt is heavy. That means the building structure would have to be reinforced, which means higher construction costs. Letting people shop for vegetables on the roof of the building means that the exit stairs wouild have to be extended to the roof and, of course, increases liability risks in the event that someone would be injured on the roof and then get an attorney who would naturally say that allowing residents on the roof is risky. If the economics of the building don't work, then the building won't be built. Ideas which increase construction and operating costs of the building mean that the vacant lot will remain vacant. Developing an office building in this economic climate is difficult at best. Let's not make it any more difficult than it already is.
mij June 26, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Evanston City Council thinks it does.
Richard Schulte June 26, 2011 at 04:39 PM
The $40 thousand that the City of Evanston spent to defray the cost of the work performed by the developers of this building was the best money spent here in a long time. Developers don't work for free, nor should they.
mij June 26, 2011 at 09:20 PM
The 1.7 million they spent to buy the site doesn't say they have been.
spider16 June 27, 2011 at 04:29 AM
I agree that we need to bring in more money to the city but that doesn't mean that the building has to look as modern as this one does. Evanston is a historical city and there are many buildings that are beautiful because of the architecture itself and the designs on the buildings. We already have enough modern looking buildings that look totally out of place for this city. Why not try to design this building to look as if it fits instead of trying to change the feel of our beautiful city. I also do not agree with the purposed height, the building across the street is already too tall for the neighborhood - this is Evanston not downtown Chicago. I have lived in Evanston my whole life and always planned on staying here, but the changes that have happened in the last few years seriously has me rethinking that idea.
John C Thomson June 27, 2011 at 05:29 AM
Amen to what spider16 said. Do we have to get 2,000 people out there to sign a petition like the Tilted Kilt people did, otherwise it comes down to 'money talks and ...well, we know what walks.
Richard Schulte June 27, 2011 at 10:49 AM
Modern buildings look like they do because of construction costs, including energy conservation requirements. No one can afford to build ornate buildings like those constructed in the 1920's and the artisans who constructed those ornate exteriors have long since passed from the scene. Today's buildings reflect practical reality. I prefer the way older buildings look too, but economy is today's reality.
mij June 27, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Obviously something needs to happen on that corner. I asked the question earlier in this discussion about the apartment complex that is supposed to be built on Chicago Ave next to this lot. Richard do you know? Perhaps something going on the city doesn't care to mention YET
Jim Caldwell June 27, 2011 at 01:53 PM
The planned apartment complex on Chicago Ave. isn't "next to" this lot. It's down the street on the other side of Kedzie, and there is a meeting about it July 21 (see the correction at the end of the article).
mij June 27, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Thanks Jim.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »