A New Fountain For Fountain Square, Perhaps

Thanks to the great Evanston Round Table:

By Shawn Jones
On Jan. 28, the Planning and Development Committee took initial steps toward replacing the current fountain with a new water feature. Staff will begin investigating a proposed nationwide competition to design and replace the current fountain within the next two or three years.

The time is right to consider replacement, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, because “big-ticket maintenance” will become necessary over the next two to three years. Given the magnitude of the expense, Council should think about replacing the fountain, “or not,” he said.

Doug Gaynor, the City’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service, said that as time goes by, the current fountain continues to deteriorate and coming repairs will be “significant.” He said the fountain, installed in 1976, required minor repairs in 2006.

“I think it’s a terrific idea” to replace the current fountain, said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. “Fountain Square looks like it was designed in the ‘70s.”
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said a redesigned square could be used in more creative ways “for all members of the community.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, whose First Ward includes Fountain Square, has championed a replacement fountain for some time. She proposed a competition seeking “creative ideas from artists across the country.” She said that her research indicated an expected price tag of about $1 million, which she said she anticipated would be at least partially privately funded, with “perhaps some funds from the Washington National TIF.”

New fountain technology exists, she said, making costs feasible.

Preempting a possible April Fool’s story, Ald. Fiske joked about a possible beer fountain given the proximity of the newly opened World of Beer.

Mr. Bobkiewicz jumped in by suggesting possible homage to the old Milwaukee Brewers Stadium, having the beer slide into a beer mug.

The committee then voted to take the next step by directing staff to report back on what would be involved in a national design competition. New ideas may be flowing into the City very soon.”

City may sink $10M in Chicago-Main office project in Evanston

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Submitted by Bill Smith on Monday, January 28, 2013, at 10:43 am

Evanston’s City Council tonight is scheduled to take a final vote on a creating a tax increment financing district for the Chicago-Main shopping district that could pump $10 million in public funds into a planned private office development.

The office building, planned for a vacant lot on the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Main Street, is projected to have a total cost of between $20 million and $30 million, depending on its size.

City officials estimate it would provide space to house 300 to 400 workers who would become new customers for retail businesses in the surrounding area.

They note that the intersection is one of the few in the metro area served by two different rail lines, which, they argue, makes it an attractive location for high tech businesses that want to draw young workers who now may live on Chicago’s north side.

A redevelopment implementation plan to be voted on by aldermen tonight suggests that nearly half the money — $4.5 million could be spent for a public parking garage to be included in the building and streetscape improvements around it.

Another $2.5 million could be used for site preparation and related work with $2 million used to subsidize interest costs for the project and $1 million for professional services.

The city subsidies to the office project, and another $15 million in proposed work in the neighborhood — mostly for improvements to public utilities — are anticipated to be funded by increases in property tax revenue within the TIF boundaries during the district’s 23-year life.

Top: A rendering of the proposed office building at Chicago and Main.

Senior Freeze and Senior Exemption Forms Now Available for 2012 Property Taxes

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Evanston Township Assessor Bonnie Wilson wants to remind area seniors that the Cook County Assessor’s office has recently mailed out the Senior Citizen Exemption and the Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze applications for their 2012 property tax bills.

Nearly 300,000 applications were mailed to seniors who received the exemption last year. The forms are being sent earlier than previous years in order to make sure that all eligible seniors apply in time to receive their savings. The forms are due on February 6, 2013.

Seniors need to remember that under Illinois law, they must re-apply each year for these exemptions to receive an annual reduction in their property taxes. Even if they might not qualify for a Senior Freeze, they may qualify for the Senior Exemption because income level is irrelevant for the exemption. The Senior Exemption and Senior Freeze applications are both included in the booklet mailed to eligible seniors.

First time qualifiers must provide a recent tax bill and a State ID or driver’s license with the correct address to the Township Assessor’s office for forwarding to the County Assessor. Residents can obtain these forms at the Evanston Township office or online at www.cookcountyassessor.com.

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To qualify for the Senior Citizen Exemption for the taxable year 2012, the property owner must have:

  • Been born prior to or in the year 1947,
  • Owned the property, or have a lease or contract which makes them responsible for the real estate taxes, and
  • Used the property as a principal place of residence.

Eligible seniors who have never applied for the Senior Exemption may visit the Assessor’s website at www.cookcountyassessor.com and download an application or pick one up at the Evanston Township Assessor’s office.

The Senior Exemption provides tax relief by reducing the equalized assessed valuation of an eligible residence. This savings is in the form of a deduction on the second-installment property tax bill issued in the summer. Seniors receiving the Senior Exemption automatically qualify for the Homeowner Exemption, and do not have to apply for it separately. However, if they fail to reapply for the Senior Exemption, the Homeowner Exemption will not be applied to the bill.

Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze

Seniors do not have to sign the top form for the Senior Exemption if they are only applying for the Senior Freeze. Additionally, seniors no longer have to have the Senior Freeze notarized, but both sides of the form need to be filled out.

The Township Assessor encourages taxpayers to bring their forms into the Evanston Township Assessor’s office so staff can send these forms directly to their representative at the Cook County Assessor’s office in order to make sure that the taxpayer will receive their appropriate exemptions.

Residents can call the Township Assessor’s office at 847/332-2465 to make an appointment or they can drop off their exemption forms at 846 Dodge Ave. (near the corner of Dodge Ave. and Main St.).

Cubs Win!

As per Crains

Chicago Cubs brass today unveiled a video and series of renderings detailing a five-year plan for restoring Wrigley Field, including locker room renovations, improved training facilities, more restrooms and concessions, a new left-field LED board and a fan deck next to the left-field foul pole.

 

The upgrades, which Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney told fans will cost $300 million, are set to begin next off-season, with other phases set to be implemented during ensuing off-seasons to avoid having to play any home games in another stadium.

Among other changes planned are expanding lower concourses to help with fan congestion, adding gathering areas in the upper concourse with skyline views, removing the concrete and upgrading the area around the marquee sign (which will remain untouched).

The Cubs also plan to remove the LED board that sits below the historic center-field scoreboard (and also to add more concessions there), and are considering adding a small pavilion in the triangle property adjacent to the stadium to host outdoor movies, farmers markets and ice skating and other community events. Other amenities unveiled in the conceptual drawings were six new elevators around the stadium and a new entrance on the west side of the stadium down the left-field line.

The first phase will involve changes to the clubhouse and player facilities. All renovations will eventually reduce the stadium’s capacity by 70 seats.

More notable, however, were Mr. Kenney’s comments on how the project will be funded, confirming that the Cubs have partly shifted their focus from seeking a public financial subsidy to working with the city on reducing their signage and neighborhood restrictions.

“If (the Ricketts family is) going to be allowed to build their business, put signs where they need them, hold games when they need them — they’re prepared to write the entire check themselves,” Mr. Kenney told reporters after the hour long session in front of hundreds of fans at the Cubs Convention.

“The landmark ordinance isn’t our problem,” he said. “It’s the ability to add marketing elements we need and host games when we feel like it.”

There’s a lot involved with that, of course, between appeasing Wrigleyville neighbors and trying to work with rooftop owners, which have a revenue-sharing contract with the team. But that effort might be more palatable than anything involving an amusement tax concession by the city.

Earlier in the day, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts answered fan questions about the progress of financing discussions with the city, saying only that talks are ongoing but that the biggest obstacles are signage and neighborhood restrictions.

“What we would like is to be treated as a private institution,” he said.AR-130119728

Governor Quinn Announces Gigabit Internet Partnership with City of Evanston and Northwestern University

Governor Pat Quinn was joined today by leaders from the City of Evanston and Northwestern University to announce a $1 million state investment to help the city become an Illinois Gigabit Community, bringing ultra-high speed Internet to one of the nation’s top universities and the surrounding area, home to more than 160 start-ups.

This gigabit service will be crucial to developing an economic innovation corridor that will attract entrepreneurs who create jobs as they grow the next generation of world-changing companies.

Announced during Governor Quinn’s 2012 State of the State Address, this investment advances the governor’s efforts to encourage world-class broadband infrastructure across Illinois.

“To compete in the 21st century economy, we must have technology infrastructure that is second to none,” Governor Quinn said. “Internet service that’s 100 times faster than what we have today will help businesses, universities and governments to revolutionize our communities and make them stronger today and in the future.”

“Evanston is home to over 160 technology start-ups housed in various scattered locations with limited synergistic relationships or facilities. The awarding of this Gigabit Community Challenge Grant Award will build a direct link between technology start-up companies, Northwestern University, the city of Evanston and private investors via gigabit fiber connections. The researchers on Northwestern University’s campus, workers in technology start-up companies and entrepreneurs will be able to access faster data speeds leading to greater discoveries and commercial applications,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. “This award will be a catalyst allowing the city of Evanston and the state of Illinois to keep great thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs and growing technology companies here in Illinois through a critical public-private-non-profit partnership.”

The governor’s strategic investment of $1 million will help connect fiber optic gigabit Internet service from downtown Chicago to Northwestern University, which will then place more than 400 access points in locations throughout campus and in surrounding Evanston.

Evanston’s NU wants to build large parking lot near Beach recreation area

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By Brian L. Cox, Special to the Tribune8:59 p.m. CST, January 16, 2013

Less than week after three Evanston residents filed a lawsuit to stop a big lakefront project by Northwestern University, construction crews on Wednesday began clearing a stand of trees on the site that some say has ecological value.

“It looks like a clear-cut logging operation out there,” said Evanston resident Matthew Mirapaul, one of the plaintiffs seeking to stop the university’s $32 million project. “It looks like a sad day for Evanston.”

NU spokesman Alan Cubbage said work began before the lawsuit was filed.

“The fences have been up for at least a couple of days,” he said. “We are on a construction schedule.”

In the lawsuit filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court, Mirapaul and fellow residents Ann Jennett and Mitchell Harrison asked a judge to order Evanston to rescind its approval for Northwestern’s visitor center and 435-space parking garage on the southeast corner of campus. The site is adjacent to the popular Clark Street Beach.

In addition to concern about losing the trees, some opponents say the center and garage will loom inappropriately over a picturesque stretch of Evanston lakefront.

Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the university has permission for the work to begin.

“I know our forestry folks have been in touch with the people at Northwestern,” Bobkiewicz said. “We’re keeping an eye on it. We knew it was coming.”

Mirapaul said the city has yet to respond to the lawsuit, and by Wednesday afternoon crews had cut down many of the 170 trees on the site.

“I’m astonished that this would occur so quickly,” Mirapaul said. “I thought that the legal process ensuing from the complaint would be sufficient for this not to happen.”

“Northwestern is not a party to the lawsuit, so there is nothing that prohibits us from moving forward,” said Cubbage, the university spokesman. “We have a signed project agreement with the city.”

The Evanston Preservation Commission in the fall recommended against allowing the project to proceed as proposed. But in November the City Council gave Northwestern the permission it needed.

The nine-page lawsuit alleges that the council acted “arbitrarily and capriciously.” It also claims that the structure violates the city’s zoning ordinance and is contrary to long-standing city planning documents, including the Lakefront Master Plan adopted by the City Council in 2008.

The project will be built largely on NU property, but the university needed a sliver of city-owned land next to the beach — where the trees stood — to build an access road.

Members of the Evanston North Shore Bird Club have watched birds rest amid the lakefront haven of trees for years, said Libby Hill, a member and city resident.

Birds migrating from the east to west have stopped to nest and gather strength along their way, she said. Hill has worked with Northwestern on creating bird-safe buildings and knew the day would come when the trees fell.

“Everybody is unhappy to see it go,” Hill said. But she takes solace in the fact that “because of the city’s tree ordinance, Northwestern has to reimburse the city for every tree going down. That will go toward creating another habitat somewhere down the lake.”

Mirapaul called the lakefront a priceless natural resource and vowed the lawsuit would continue.

“The forest, although an important part of this project, is not the only part of this project about which we have concerns,” he said. “Everyone in Evanston who loves the lakefront should let the people know who are responsible for this know how disappointed they are.”

Tribune reporter Lisa Black contributed.

Evanston Neighbors, contractors turn out for high-rise meeting

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Neighbors listen (top) as city planner Dennis Marino (above) describes revisions to the project plan

Submitted by Bill Smith on Friday, January 11, 2013, at 10:13 am Evanston Now

A mix of neighbors with doubts about the project and small contractors hoping for jobs building it turned out for a 2nd Ward meeting Thursday night about two planned high-rise towers on Emerson Street in Evanston.

The buildings, originally approved as separate planned developments for 1881 Oak Ave. and 1890 Maple Ave. in 2006 and 2007, are up for a possible vote by City Council Monday on revisions to their plans that combine what had been two separate parking structures into a combined base for the towers.

The new plans also reduce the height of the project. And in switching from one condo tower and one rental tower to two rental apartment towers the developers have also slightly increased the number of apartment units and reduced the average unit size.

The contractors, some of whom successfully lobbied the city for a larger role in the $18 million federally-funded Neighborhood Stablization Program housing rehabilitation program, are hoping the new private development will also help them grow their businesses.

Neighbors voiced a variety of concerns — many related to the traffic impact of the project. But they were told that an updated traffic study shows the project would not adversely impact traffic in the area.

They also asked who would pay for planned improvements to the streetscape around the buildings and were told that tab would be picked up by the developers.

The revised planned development proposal (.pdf)