Development committee votes in favor of Howard apartments

Annie Martin

South Evanston’s Howard Street soon might be more than just a transfer point for the El.It might also be a place to call home.

The Evanston Economic Development Committee voted Thursday night to recommend a 221-unit apartment complex to the City Council after reaching a compromise with the developer over the employment of minorities, women and Evanston residents. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the project next Tuesday.

The project, which would be Evanston’s first high-rise outside of downtown, was first proposed nearly two years ago but has not yet been approved. Low rental rates, the existence of only one sewer and construction cost increases contributed to the delay, said Bill Patrun, an associate at Bristol Chicago Development, LLC. Bristol has also had to work with the Chicago Transit Authority because the property is so close to the train route.

“You see a lot of vacant properties sometimes – that’s why,” Patrun said. “The deals are very difficult to come by when you put all the aspects together.”

The agreement with the developer requires that women, minorities and Evanston residents account for 25 percent of the people hired for the project. Bristol must hire at least eight Evanston residents.

The city originally required that 25 percent of the money spent on the project go to businesses owned by minorities, women or Evanston residents and that 15 percent of the workers fit these categories, said Dick Peach, chairman of the Minority, Women and Evanston Business Enterprise Development Committee.

The developers wanted to hire companies that could both design and construct various parts of the building, but such firms are difficult to find, Peach said. Their request to the city to waive its requirements for the project was turned down.

But at its Thursday meeting, the committee agreed that if the developers complied with the new compromise, they won’t have to comply with the city’s original request. Peach said that in the future the city would focus on the number of women, minorities and Evanston employees hired for projects, not on who owns the businesses.

“If we had stood our ground and said you can’t do this, then this project probably would have died tonight,” Peach said of the compromise.

Local schools have been concerned about the project because of a loss of funds in property taxes, Peach said. Under the agreement, Bristol Chicago will be exempt from paying property taxes for the building for five years.

“And for another seven years after that, there’ll be reduced taxes – so over a 12-year period they’re going to get less taxes than they should have,” Peach said. “And that makes a big difference.”

The building is likely to attract young people and retirees, so the schools probably won’t receive many more children as a result, Peach said. Despite concerns, he said the development, as well as the recently built Dominick’s and shopping plaza across the street, will benefit the area.

“It’s a great project,” Peach said. “It’s needed in that area. I grew up in this town. Howard Street has been a cesspool since I first started going over there in the ’50s. It’s better, but still a cesspool.”

Reach Annie Martin at [email protected]