Garage deemed unsafe, closes to stunned patrons

Yuxing Zheng

The Daily Northwestern

Sherman Avenue Parking Garage customers will have to park elsewhere starting today, after the garage permanently closed for business Tuesday night at 10 p.m.

The City of Evanston announced Tuesday the closure of the garage at 1616 Sherman Ave., which comes more than four months after the original closure date set by the city. The decision was made after Evanston’s structural engineers evaluated the building and advised its closure. The city potentially could conduct safety tests and analysis of the building in the future.

The short notice and quick closure surprised some of the garage’s 600 to 800 daily customers, who said it would be an inconvenience.

“I was a little upset because it was very close to work and it was cheap,” said Chicago resident Michelle LaGrotta, who works at The Flat Top Grill, 707 Church St.

She said she found out about the closure through posted signs and flyers that garage employees handed out on Tuesday.

“It’s a bit of an inconvenience — especially for the people who didn’t park today — that it’s going to be closed tomorrow,” LaGrotta said. “They definitely should have given more notice and come up with more alternatives for parking since there’s already limited parking in Evanston.”

The quick closure also caught employees by surprise.

The garage’s assistant manager, Dan Kida, said he did not learn the garage was closing until he received a phone call Tuesday morning.

“It was kind of a surprise wake-up,” said Kida, who has been working at the garage for a month and a half.

Kida said he and other garage employees, who work for private companies, likely will be relocated to other area garages. He said he was told from the beginning that the garage might close, but was surprised that it finally did.

“I knew from the get-go the garage could close any day, ” Kida said. “The city had to weigh inconvenience with safety. You can find another parking spot, but if you have a big piece of floor fall on your head, you can’t replace that.”

But customer Wendy Istvanick, a Chicago resident who undergoes physical therapy in downtown Evanston, said she is not convinced the garage is being closed solely for safety reasons.

“I had a feeling it was going to happen because the condos are going into the neighborhood,” Istvanick said, in reference to the Sherman Plaza project. “But I don’t believe that the reason is just purely structural or they just couldn’t fix it.”

Plans for the $100-million Sherman Plaza project include a 27-story condominium tower with 175 to 200 residential units, an athletic club, a four-story retail space and a 12-story parking garage. The development will take up most of the city block bordered by Benson and Sherman avenues and Church and Davis streets.

The garage originally was slated to close at the end of last year and was scheduled for demolition March 1, but city officials decided to keep it open because the Sherman Plaza developer did not have full financial backing for the project.

Ald. Edmund Moran (6th), who learned of the garage closure in a fax he received Tuesday afternoon, said he was surprised by the announcement but said the closure had nothing to do with progress on the Sherman Plaza.

“I think the garage is being closed because there was an assessment made that (the garage) reached a point where it wasn’t safe,” Moran said.

He also said the he thought it was unfortunate that the garage’s customers were given such short warning.

“They probably should have had more time to think about (the closure) or to develop other plans,” Moran said.

Although Moran said the garage eventually will be demolished, he said he did not know the specific time frame for demolition.

The city advises drivers to park at one of its two other public parking garages: Maple Avenue Self Park, at 1800 Maple Ave., and Church Street Self Park at 525 Church St.