Evanston aldermen commit property for new Trader Joe’s parking lot

Susan Du

The Evanston City Council committed Monday to acquiring properties and pursuing parking license agreements with developers for the site of a proposed Trader Joe’s and its adjacent parking lot.

Aldermen voted to devote more than $2 million from the city’s parking fund to purchasing the approximately 18,000 square feet of land so existing buildings can be demolished to make room for a parking lot at 1229 and 1223-1225 Chicago Ave.

Northwestern, which currently owns the 1229 Chicago Ave. building, has agreed to let Evanston pay for the property after Trader Joe’s opens. This would give the city some insurance of its investment return, according to a presentation given by Johanna Nyden, the city’s economic development coordinator, at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center on Monday.

Nyden explained that based on projections for revenue Trader Joe’s would bring to the city in terms of home rule sales tax, general merchandise, liquor tax and property taxes, the city could recover its more than $2 million investment within three to four-and-a-half years after the store opens. Trader Joe’s will open in Spring 2013 if all goes according to schedule.

“This is an important day for us as your city staff to come before you with what we believe is an excellent investment in this community,” said city manager Wally Bobkiewicz. “The work that we have done in economic development throughout Evanston has been a slow process to get started. I think this council, however, has made some very significant moves over the last 12 months, and the work we have done to invest in properties … all over the city has been really important to make the economic engine of Evanston stronger.”

The majority of council discussion centered on the issue of insurance. Aldermen questioned whether the city would be liable for potential parking lot accidents because Evanston would remain the owner of the property after it is licensed to developers.

City attorneys verified that parking lots in addition to city buildings are included in Evanston’s current insurance coverage. However, the coverage generally has to do with fixing damages to the properties instead of human liabilities.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said she was concerned the city might be “sitting ducks for a lawsuit” if people know Evanston owns the parking lot property. If someone is seriously injured in the parking lot, the city could potentially be found accountable, she suggested.

Nyden also addressed council concerns over how Trader Joe’s would impact area grocery stores. Based on research conducted by city staff, once the novelty of Trader Joe’s passes after six to nine months, it will likely bring new shoppers to the Chicago-Dempster business district. In addition, the majority of Trader Joe’s stores in the Chicago metropolitan area have at least one other grocery store within a half mile.

Just before the city council voted on the four ordinances relating to acquiring property and parking licenses, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd), expressed her pleasure that progress had been made in bringing Trader Joe’s to the 3rd Ward.

“I would just like to thank Johanna and all of the economic development staff for all of their hard work on this over a long period of time and to thank (development firm) Terraco as well,” Wynne said.

In the ensuing votes, Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) abstained from voting regarding the property at 1229 Chicago Ave., and Rainey voted against the ordinance to authorize the city manager to purchase the property. Ald. Don Wilson (4th) voted against all four ordinances relating to purchasing land and acquiring parking licenses.

“I feel like the city didn’t budget for these types of projects in the budgeting process, and I think it would have been more appropriate for the city to have budgeted for these rather than picking them up on the fly,” Wilson said. “For me there needs to be a particularly compelling reason for the government to subsidize a private business.”

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