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 Debate Rages

By Megan CrepeauThe Daily Northwestern

The debate over the future of Evanston’s Civic Center came to a head Thursday night as activists for and against preserving the building argued their sides in a locally televised debate.

Two representatives of the citizen group Friends of the Civic Center, which supports maintaining the building at 2100 Ridge Ave., faced off in a panel discussion against Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) and former Ald. Art Newman (1st).

Getting the public forum to happen was a feat in itself, said John Kennedy, one of the group’s representatives, during the debate. He was paired with Elliott Dudnik, Weinberg ’83. Kennedy said the City Council was unresponsive until after he and Sidney Zwick, the discussion’s sponsor, pressured the city at council meetings and through phone calls. The forum was finally set up about a week ago, Kennedy said.

On April 17, Evanston voters will decide on two non-binding referendums about the Civic Center. Friends of the Civic Center collected enough signatures to place a question asking if the city should rehabilitate the existing building. In response, the City Council placed its own question on the ballot that lists an estimated rehabilitation cost for the center at $19 million.

Both sides disagree strongly on the financial implications of the issue. The city has estimated the cost to build a new Civic Center from scratch at about $34 million. Friends of the Civic Center countered with its own estimate of $43 to $50 million, saying that renovation would cost $13 million.

“This building was here when we all came. It should be here when we leave.” Kennedy said.

Friends of the Civic Center asserts the building is a landmark, while city officials have said the building is outdated and support selling the property to a developer and moving city offices to a new building.

“To take a bad building that has so many problems and try to make it into something it was never meant to be, it doesn’t make sense,” Newman said.

How the city will pay for either option is still up for debate, both sides said.

“The plans? We don’t have a plan,” said Bernstein. “We’re trying to speculate.”

The city hopes to sell the existing Civic Center to a developer and declare a Tax Increment Financing district. In TIF districts, the amount of property tax revenue schools and other government bodies receive is frozen over the life of the TIF. Any increase in property tax receipts caused by new development within the TIF district is used by the city for public works and capital improvements. Several TIF districts already exist in different areas of the city.

The Friends of the Civic Center countered that the city could make up for the lack of revenue from a development by issuing bonds, renting out extra space in the Civic Center or building condos and townhomes above the Civic Center’s parking lot.

There were about twelve people in the audience, including the speakers’ family members and Ald. Ann Rainey (8th). Rainey refused to comment about the debate.

The event lasted until the end of the allotted time, nearly two hours.

“I think it went really well,” said R.J. Coleman, the event’s moderator. “(It was a) good opportunity to air out some of the opinions.”

Reach Megan Crepeau at [email protected].

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Civic Center Debate Rages