Evanston sees drop in retail vacancies

Matt Lopas

Downtown Evanston has achieved a retail vacancy rate of 4.5 percent, its lowest in at least a decade, said Bridget Lane, executive director of Evmark.

Evmark, a nonprofit marketing group for downtown Evanston, presented the Evanston Economic Development Committee on Monday with a status report on downtown retail leasing.

“To my knowledge, (the vacancy rate) is as low as it’s ever been,” Lane said.

A low vacancy rate indicates high demand for real estate in Evanston, Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) said.

As more companies do business in Evanston, more tax revenue is generated for the city, which is currently facing a projected $3.7 million budget deficit.

Evmark is attempting to fill the nine retail spaces still available downtown.

But Lane said these numbers will change with next year’s building of Sherman Plaza – a condominium and retail complex slated to be built on Sherman Avenue between Church and Davis streets.

At a meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers next week, Evmark will market the city to retailers to persuade businesses to locate in downtown Evanston. They will present demographic information as well as facts about the city, including information on parking, the arts scene and Northwestern football.

But Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) said he is concerned with building owners already located in Evanston who have trouble attracting quality business tenants. He urged Evmark to become involved with helping and educating building owners on how to attract retailers.

Newman stressed the need to get long-lasting tenants who are successful and improve the quality of downtown.

“I think it’s gotten to the point where it really is problematic,” Newman said.

Economic Development Committee member Martin Norkett, chief executive at local development company Glenlake Capital, said he was concerned with retail businesses in Evanston during the city’s budget deficit.

People need to spend their money in Evanston in order to generate the tax revenue needed to help ease the city’s financial woes, he said.

“We have to push this town, we can’t hide it anymore,” Norkett said. “We’re not going to get through it unless you tell people to ‘Buy Evanston.'”

The committee also discussed Monday the status of various building projects in the city.

Dennis Marino, assistant director of planning for the city, said Dempster Plaza on the corner of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue is on schedule even though the space is not completely leased.

Newman said he was concerned that fewer locations have been filled in the plaza’s south end near Dominick’s Finer Foods, which provides more traffic as the plaza’s centerpiece.

Assistant City Manager Judith Aiello briefed the committee on Sherman Plaza. The Evanston City Council has approved the plan, and Aiello said the city hopes to begin the project in early 2002 by building a new garage to replace the old one, which will be torn down.

Developer Thomas J. Klutznick Co. continues to market the retail spaces and has received a lot of interest, she said. No leases have been signed yet.

Aiello also discussed the continuing construction on the Church Street Plaza.

“The retail in place continues to do well,” Aeillo said, citing the success of Century Theatres.

In the project’s next phase, the residential towers are set to be built across from the movie theater. Aeillo said construction should begin in November as scheduled.