Bowling alley unlikely to come to Dempster and Dodge, owner says

Edward Cox, Assistant City Editor

A community push to bring a bowling alley to Evanston Plaza looks unlikely to come to fruition.

Bonnie Investment Group, a real estate investment firm that purchased the property at 1968 Dempster St. out of foreclosure last year, has reached out to Pinstripes, Brunswick National Lanes and the Wilmette Bowling Center Inc. None of the businesses has expressed interest so far, primarily because of economic strains, said Scott Inbinder, a Bonnie Investment Group representative.

“The reality is if there is no bowling operator that can afford to be there, it doesn’t matter,” Inbinder said.

The current property dimensions inside the plaza, a tax incremental financing district area, are not compatible with bowling alley building standards, Inbinder said. Specifically, the column widths are not wide enough, and the lot would not be deep enough to accommodate an entertainment area in the building.

Demand for a bowling alley in the plaza gathered steam when Evanston Patch columnist Christine Wolf  began an online petition Feb. 11. The petition has since attracted about 400 signatures. Wolf said she has talked to Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd),  whose ward encompasses the TIF district, and city manager Wally Bobkiewicz about bringing more business to the area.

But Inbinder has not yet accepted an invitation to an April 11 ward meeting or another scheduled in March with Braithwaite and residents to discuss property development, Wolf said.

“(Bobkiewicz) is in a tough spot understandably,” Wolf said. “He likes to keep the residents happy, but Bonnie Investment Corporation owns the property and it seems like they don’t have a whole lot of incentive … Right now that mall is not very inviting.”

The firm has leased out properties to four tenants so far, including a pizza restaurant, a pediatrician’s office, a medical group and an army recruitment center. It is looking to use vacant spaces for businesses that have a “high packing intensity,” such as restaurants and offices, Inbinder said. The grocery store Dominick’s, an anchor tenant in the lot, has been supportive of the new businesses, he said.

The Dempster-Dodge TIF district area, however, will need another anchor store similar to Dominick’s to boost business activities, Wolf said.

City Council approved the TIF district 6-2 in June to devote city revenue toward further development of the plaza, committing Evanston to contribute $20 million to renovating the area over 23 years.

“I think (the economic development staff) are doing a great job given where we were four years ago,” Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said Monday.

The city also provided Bonnie Investment Group $2 million for initial funding, but the firm has not spent any of that money yet, Inbinder said.

“We’ve been actively marketing the space to all different types of users,” he said. “It’s been somewhat challenging given the economic environment … but we keep putting the property in front of every tenant out there looking for space.”