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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Friends’ Referendum Passes

By Megan Crepeau and Danny YadronThe Daily Northwestern

In a victory for supporters in favor of rehabilitating Evanston’s Civic Center, local voters resoundingly supported a referendum placed on the ballot by a pro-Civic Center group and gave a split decision on a similar question posed by the city.

The final numbers for the non-binding referendum asking if city government should stay in its current offices had 4,910 votes in favor and 1,040 opposed, with 69 of 70 precincts reporting at press time.

However, voters were split by just 72 votes on a competing referendum that asked if they would fund rehabilitation of the Civic Center through the sale of at least $31 million in bonds.

About 51 percent, or 2,161 voters, selected ‘no’ in answer to that question, which was added by the city after Friends of the Civic Center collected enough signatures to place the first question on Tuesday’s ballot.

Although the Evanston City Council will not be forced to take action because of the referendum’s result, activists in favor of saving the 98-year-old building, 2100 Ridge Ave., expressed their excitement about the election.

“I am delighted with the result,” said John Kennedy, founder of the activist group Friends of the Civic Center. “It was what I was hoping for.”

The group was campaigning for voters to ignore the city’s question, calling the $31 million figure misleading. About 1,500 more people voted on the Friends’ referendum than on the council’s.

“What’s telling is they still couldn’t get a large majority of people to vote no,” Kennedy said. “It’s almost the perfect scenario.”

City aldermen in favor of selling the current building and constructing a new headquarters congratulated pro-Civic Center activists on the results.

“The Friends (of the Civic Center) got the vote out,” Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said. “They did a good job.”

Bernstein, an outspoken advocate for finding an alternative site for city hall, felt many people were misinformed about the issue.

“I talked to some people last night that had some real misconceptions about how much things would cost,” he said.

Friends of the Civic Center spent more than $5,000 in its marketing effort to convince Evanston residents that rehabilitating the building would cost less than $31 million.

“I think we did a pretty good job of educating people,” said Friends member Vito Brugliera, McCormick ’55. “It’s interesting what people can do if they have a mind for it.”

But Bernstein credited many of the ‘yes’ votes on the group’s referendum to nostalgia, calling it a “feel-good question.”

Kennedy was nevertheless happy about the result.

“This is not a burning issue on most people’s minds,” he said. “A lot of people probably said ‘I like that old building. What’s wrong with it?'”

Both referenda are non-binding, meaning they are meant to gauge citizen opinion rather than lead to a specific decision.

On Monday, aldermen voted to begin testfitting a report detailing plans for a future Civic Center to prospective sites, including the current building.

“I think that the City Council is always concerned what the people think,” Bernstein said. “But at the end of the day, the people have elected us to do what we think is right and it will cost us a lot of money to stay in (2100 Ridge Ave.).”

Members of Friends of the Civic Center acknowledged that despite the outcome of Tuesday’s referenda, aldermen will make the final decision to stay or to go.

“In the long run, they can still tell us to go to hell,” Brugliera said. “That’s their prerogative. … We’re waiting for the City Council to have an epiphany.”

At least for now, Friends of the Civic Center is content.

“I’m going to sleep well tonight,” Kennedy said.

Reach Megan Crepeau at [email protected]. Reach Danny Yadron at [email protected].

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Friends’ Referendum Passes