New owner optimistic about Evanston Plaza’s future

Susan Du

The Evanston Plaza shopping center near the intersection of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue has been jointly purchased by the WHI Real Estate Partners LLC and the Bonnie Management Corp. for $8.1 million.

Eric Palmer, the city’s community info coordinator, confirmed Evanston’s share of the transaction. The property transfer tax totaled $40,500 effective Dec. 22.

“We’re concerned about the development of that entire area around Dempster and Dodge, so we’re excited about new ownership, and we look forward to them developing that site as best they can to better service the members of our community,” Palmer said. “This is a win-win situation for the city and the community. We have what appears to be a strong owner.”

The last real estate company to own Evanston Plaza was Joseph Freed and Associates LLC. According to studies located on the company’s website, the shopping center serves about 27,000 people within a one-mile radius with an average household income of about $89,000. An estimated 47,000 cars pass through the intersection of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, according to the website.

Nevertheless, Evanston Plaza has seen its share of hardships in recent years. Currently anchored by Dominick’s, it remains about 50 percent occupied, after its other anchor tenant, A.J. Wright of TJX Companies, left in early 2011. In May, Bank of America purchased Evanston Plaza after the center underwent foreclosure.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said Evanston Plaza’s problems are not a result of its location, but rather developed out of economic aftershocks induced by the recession. He said he has met with the new owners and is optimistic that fresh management will attract new tenants.

“I’m really excited about the opportunities that will be presented in the future,” Braithwaite said. “The mall plays a very key role not only in the (2nd) Ward but also in the city of Evanston. And I’m totally committed to the success of the mall in the future because if everything works out well, it will be a huge opportunity for residents to be employed and for the generation of much-needed sales taxes.”

The nature of the partnership between WHI Real Estate Partners and Bonnie Management Corp. is that WHI will oversee the shopping center’s financial affairs while Bonnie Management Corp. will take care of day-to-day operating concerns.

Scott Inbinder, vice president of Bonnie Management Corp., said Evanston Plaza is attractive because it resembles many other retail properties the company manages in the Chicago metropolitan area and southern Wisconsin. However, the shopping center will be Bonnie Management Corp.’s first Evanston real estate.

“We do know Evanston, and we know the market there,” Inbinder said. “This center has a very dense, urban population, which is similar to a number of (locations) we own right now. Given that similarity, we hope we can revitalize the shopping center and bring it to where it should be.”

Inbinder said his company will work to hire a third party leasing agent, primarily for the purposes of attracting new businesses to Evanston Plaza in the coming weeks. In the meantime, he said Bonnie Management Corp. will research further to understand Evanston Plaza better.

“We need… to know what the shopping center needs, who the right tenants would be, the proper co-tenants for Dominick’s as well as tenants that will complement each other,” he said. “We need to understand a little about the shopping patterns and hopefully visit with some of the neighbors and neighborhood groups to understand who they think the appropriate tenants might be.”

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