Council: Evanston won’t commercialize lakefront

Chris Kirk

The Evanston City Council reassured citizens Monday evening it is not looking to commercialize the lakefront after some residential groups raised concerns.

The council said it would stick to the Lakefront Master Plan, which preserves the lakefront as an essential non-commercial zone.

The plan, which the council unanimously approved in 2008, established guidelines on what improvements should be made to the lakefront in the next 20 years, focusing primarily on passive recreation activities like boating and swimming and avoiding commercialization.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) recalled the anti-development sentiment that flooded the planning process, which included an extensive public involvement process, and said she would uphold the plan’s vision.

“There was overwhelming consensus that the lakefront should remain non-commercialized and passive,” she said.

She also said Evanston’s lakefront is “something that nobody else has.”

Wynne clashed, however, with Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) over how stringently the council should ignore potentially lucrative economic opportunities that may violate the Lakefront Master Plan’s vision, especially considering the city’s budget problems.

“We have to stay open to the possibilities as opposed to foreclosing options,” Jean-Baptiste said, adding the city’s financial troubles are not going to fade anytime soon.But Wynne said the reason the city created the plan in the first place is to immediately cross out certain proposals.

“Part of the reason why you develop a plan and have a sense of guidelines and a road map is so that when you get the big wow pizow idea that comes in, you’ve already thought through what are your basic values and goals you want to adhere to” Wynne said. “I won’t look at every single idea that comes in the door, no matter how much money it generates on the lakefront.”

Lakefront revenues from the last fiscal years totaled nearly $1 million, according to a memo from the city manager.

The city has already completed two Lakefront Master Plan projects, both of which were intended to improve accessibility.

The council did not discuss an existing 9 p.m. parking ban on the lakefront despite citizen comments accusing the ban of being outdated.

Aldermen also discussed proposed recommendations to the Robert Crown Center, which houses Evanston’s ice rink.

“This is or should be a top priority.” Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said. “We are losing revenue opportunities. The facilities are woefully inadequate.”

The Playground and Recreation Board presented a recommendation to the Human Services Committee to construct a new, 93,000 square foot facility at the southwest corner of Robert Crown Park to replace the current one at an estimated cost of $25 million.

The council did not formally decide whether to partially renovate the existing building, fully renovate it or build a new building, but City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz recommended the lattermost option, to which the council agreed.

“Go for the whole enchilada,” he said.

The council said it would fund the project without using taxpayer money.[email protected]