City holds community meeting to address plans for Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center

Ben Winck, Assistant City Editor

Evanston residents offered input on the future of the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center at a meeting Thursday.

The City of Evanston met with the community to discuss planned site improvements for the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, located on the southwest corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue. The city is partnering with urban planning firm Teska Associates, Inc. The primary goal is to keep the cultural center as popular and versatile as it is today while creating a more inviting outdoor space, Teska consultant Jodi Mariano said.

“We want to make sure that it continues to be well-used,” Mariano said. “We want to make sure we continue to promote this as the cornerstone of the community, a place where people will always feel comfortable gathering.”

The renovated exterior will bring new greenery, wooden facades, benches and bike racks. A sidewalk cutout will allow for garbage trucks and delivery vehicles to access the building’s side yard while also opening up the patio area for visitors.

There used to be significant flooding in the building due to the gradient of the surrounding landscape, so improvements will be made to fix that issue, Mariano said.

“We want to improve the drainage system, so an underground rain structure is proposed with some downspouts and connections to the sewer,” Mariano said. “It would be improved in a way so that there wouldn’t be any rain water entering the building.”

Not all the attendees were immediately won over by the conceptual images and plans. Some complained about the lack of a bus stop sign while others were worried about additional bike racks conflicting with the newly built Divvy bike-sharing station across the street. The cost of the project was surprising, and money used could be put to better use on a different development, longtime Evanston resident Madelyn Ducre said.

“I asked the city, ‘Why can’t we have low-income housing built?’ . . . and I was told it was too expensive to build anything,” Ducre said. “Is this going to happen with this building here?”

Director of Parks and Recreation Lawrence Hemingway said more than half the funds used on the improvements are restricted to capital improvements and cannot be used for affordable housing or other city ordinances.

Teska predicted construction to begin in spring of 2017 and end in summer of the same year. Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said she is excited for the future of the property and the possibility of the community owning the building down the line.

“I’d love to see community people get together and purchase it, as an investment and as a part of our community,” Holmes said. “We have some different visions in terms of where to go here.”

As the meeting came to a close, many residents requested a follow-up meeting to voice additional concerns and make suggestions. Mariano said she would contact the designers to address some of the residents’ complaints before holding a second community meeting.

The large and vocal group of attendees helped the Evanston government learn what areas of the project to devote more attention to, said Lara Biggs, the Public Works capital planning bureau chief.

“We are trying to provide a project that meets the needs of this community,” Biggs said. “We have a couple more months of design work, so there’s still opportunity to give us your opinion.”

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