Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Civic Center receives some ‘friendly’ support

An unofficial resident committee has a plan to save the Evanston Civic Center from demolition. In fact, it has about 10.

At a meeting of the Civic Center Committee Wednesday evening, John Kennedy, founder of the preservation group Friends of the Civic Center, directed the presentation of the resident committee’s “Civic Center – Plan B: How to save the old girl.” The more than 50 residents who attended the meeting, some standing in the back, applauded after nearly every speaker.

For most of the evening aldermen watched the presentation, making few interruptions.

The Civic Center, the seat of the city government located at 2100 Ridge Ave., is nearly 100 years old. City staff have estimated that repairs to the center could reach $20 million, prompting aldermen to unanimously vote to search for a new location earlier this year. Aldermen have not released possible locations for a new civic center.

“I hope we can convey that there are options,” Kennedy said. “They really need to reconsider.”

The Evanston Preservation Committee recommended in September that the council grant the center landmark status, which aldermen said could discourage future development of the land. The resident committee’s PowerPoint presentation outlined two possibilities for preserving the center – keep the seat of government where it is or preserve the building and convert it for another use.

Evanston architects John Macsi and Andy Spatz presented alternative uses for the center, including several plans for condo units and family homes.

“My role evolved into ‘the thinking way outside the box guy,'” Spatz said. “My job was to see how many dollars could be squeezed out of this property.”

The resident committee also described strategies to pay for their suggestions. Using a Google search, Kennedy said he found a company selling parts needed to repair the center’s heat pumps without having to install a completely new system. He said the council also could save money by restructuring the slate roof instead of replacing it with asphalt, which would save half a million dollars. A report nine years ago estimated redoing the center’s electrical system would cost more than $120,000, but Kennedy found quotes that would repair the problems for $70,000.

Facilities Management Director Max Rubin said the city cannot comment on the validity of the data yet.

“We just saw this presentation,” he said. “We need a chance to review the numbers.”

Aldermen on the Civic Center Committee disagreed with some of the plans Wednesday, specifically a suggestion to divide the park land near the Civic Center into lots for single-family homes.

After applying a 20 percent federal landmark-tax-credit, the costs of fixing the center’s immediate problems would net about $1.3 million, according to the resident committee. The credit would apply whether the city keeps or sells the building if it becomes a landmark property. This could increase the city’s chances of selling the Civic Center to a developer, who without the incentive might dismiss the purchase because of landmark restrictions.

The city also could seek money through an Illinois Heritage Fund Grant. Preservationist Barbara Gardner said she has spoken to representatives of the Heritage Fund and feels they could give the city up to $100,000.

Aldermen on the Civic Center Committee said they would look into the suggested strategies but did not forward any of the proposals on to the full council.

But Friends of the Civic Center member Leigh MacIsaac, who handed out 250 orange flyers announcing the meeting, said she worries the council will continue to pursue a plan for a new civic center.

“If we ask the city council to spend money to maintain the center, they’d say they couldn’t afford it,” MacIsaac said. “If they (moved) they would find the money. Then they wouldn’t have a problem finding the money.”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Civic Center receives some ‘friendly’ support