Evanston business owners urge more local development to help growth


Jeffrey Wang/Daily Senior Staffer

The Olive Mountain, 610 Davis St. Some business owners expressed support for a proposed development project at the Jan. 23 City Council meeting.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

While some Evanston residents have spoken out against large-scale developments they feel pose a threat to affordable housing, business owners have urged City Council to support projects that they say will help keep their doors open.

Twelve local business owners submitted a letter to aldermen at the Jan. 23 council meeting, advocating for the proposed 601 Davis St. development. The aldermen voted against the project, though Dan Barton, owner of the Evanston Spice and Tea Exchange, told The Daily the reason business owners want more development is “pure and simple.”

“We need more foot traffic with potential customers coming by our store, and I believe (the) 601 Davis (St. development) was a great opportunity to provide that traffic,” Barton told The Daily in an email. “Growth is the lifeblood of most any business.”

Barton read the letter — which was signed by businesses including Aloha Poke Co, Freshii Evanston and Gigio’s Pizzeria — during public comment before the vote, saying the project was “crucial” to the continued success of locally-owned shops and restaurants.

The letter also said the last few years have been especially competitive for business owners, and that rising real estate taxes have increased the cost of their affairs.

“Everyday, we face the stark realities of having to bring customers through the door, so we can pay our employees and turn a profit,” Barton said, reading the letter. “Unique coffee shops, charming boutiques and cozy restaurants need people willing to spend money to support us and keep our businesses viable.”

Chris Botti, the owner of the Botti Studio of Architectural Arts, was also one of the 12 local owners to sign the letter.

He said at public comment that as a 50-year Evanston resident and an Evanston Township High School graduate, he thought the project would bring “positive things” to the city.

“In the 70s, (Evanston) was a depressed town,” Botti said. “(Now) people say, ‘Oh my God, Evanston, it’s really something now.’ It’s got life.”

The Olive Mountain owner Hassib Blan told The Daily he supported the 33-story Davis tower because of the developer’s plan to add more public parking. He said while parking availability is a problem for most restaurants in Evanston, it is particularly a problem on Davis Street because of its large number of restaurants.

Blan added that some of his customers have told him that after they drive around trying to find parking, they will just leave and not go to his restaurant. He said any development in Evanston would be good for the city, especially at the 601 Davis St. space since it is a “black spot” in the neighborhood.

“I have no problem with supporting any other project,” Blan said. “Especially in Evanston, because it’s good for the business, it’s good for the city, it’s good for everybody.”

Ryan Wangman contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @sn_handler