Evanston residents petition for bowling alley in vacant shopping center

Edward Cox, Reporter

Evanston residents have petitioned for the creation of a bowling alley in a mostly vacant west Evanston shopping center.

About 300 people have signed an online petition on Change.org started by Evanston Patch columnist Christine Wolf on Feb. 11.

“I don’t feel like there are a whole lot of indoor activities available for kids,” the Evanston resident and mother of three said. “I think a lot of people in Evanston have been talking for a long time about why don’t we have a bowling alley.”

Bonnie Management Corporation purchased the Evanston Plaza shopping center, located on Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue,  in December 2011. The city has since appropriated $20 million in tax increment financing to be spent over 23 years to develop the area.

The TIF district designation will freeze the level of property tax revenue collected by area taxing entities and direct the extra revenue toward additional business development.

Calls for a family entertainment and bowling center ranked 93 on a list of 100 ideas from the Evanston 150 selection jury. International theater, film and humanities festivals, a summer Shakespeare festival and an outdoor amphitheater topped the list of ideas. The petition, addressed to members of Bonnie Management’s executive team, notifies principal Scott Inbinder whenever a petitioner expresses support, Wolf said.

“We have boys and girls bowling programs that would love to have a bowling alley much closer to home for our matches and year-round opportunities to improve,” Evanston Township High School athletic director Chris Livatino said on the petition.

Wolf said the property management corporation is not doing its part to attract businesses to Evanston Plaza.

In a post on the petition website, Inbinder said, “The current size and layout of the available space is unusual and may not lend itself to a bowling alley configuration, however, I’m happy to provide a space plan to any interested parties.”

One possible obstacle in building a bowling alley is a licensing agreement held by the supermarket Dominick’s, which has a location in the plaza. The license gives the the supermarket a voice in choosing businesses surrounding it, said Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development coordinator.

“What has been reported to me is … Dominick’s wants to make sure there is enough parking,” Zalmezak said.

Zalmezak said the supermarket and Bonnie Management have been involved in talks concerning the leasing agreement. Representatives from Bonnie Management could not be reached for comment.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) voted for the creation of the west Evanston TIF district, which lies in his ward. Perceptions of the supermarket’s opposition to a bowling alley are misplaced, he said.

“Reality is, before someone should cast an opinion … there needs to be an owner willing to open up a bowling business in the area,” Braithwaite said, emphasizing “it is not a city decision.”

Zalmezak said the city has reached out to the national operator Brunswick National Lanes, which has not expressed interest so far. He said the city is working on contacting smaller bowling alley businesses.

Wolf said she will talk about business development in the district with Inbinder in a 2nd Ward meeting on March 14.

“A lot of people think Dominick’s is the bad guy and Peter Braithwaite thinks differently, he sees Dominick’s as supportive of the community,” Wolf said. “So I’m trying to get to the bottom of this.”