City Council initiates grant agreement process with the AUX to support Black-owned businesses


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. City Council initiated a grant Monday with the AUX, an organization hoping to bring healing, wellness and racial equity to Evanston with their commercial hub.

Shannon Tyler and Kate Walter

City Council unanimously authorized the city to negotiate a $1 million grant agreement with the AUX Monday. The AUX is a commercial hub development project centered around uplifting Black entrepreneurs and dedicated to healing, wellness and racial equity. 

The AUX, an estimated $7 million project, sought $1 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding. With City Council’s support, Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski is authorized to negotiate and execute an agreement to allocate the funds. The hub will be developed at the intersection of Pitner Avenue and Washington Street in the 2nd Ward.

Evanston received $43 million in ARPA funds from the federal government, about $10 million of which are allocated to small business economic assistance. Eligible projects for funding include those supporting small businesses, specifically that are women-owned or minority-owned. 

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said City Council made history by supporting this project led by and for Black businesses. 

“For a town that supports and leads our country in reparations and understands the need to invest and support our Black community, this is just one more step in that direction,” Braithwaite said. 

The AUX will provide opportunities for Black business owners to come together by hosting a shared commercial space, according to their website.

Future the AUX tenant Tiffany Wilson spoke in support of funding the AUX, calling the project “intentional” with Black women leading the process. Because of this, Wilson said the AUX will be a positive environment for her as a first-time business owner and a birthplace for others’ dreams.

“The AUX is the first innovative idea this city has seen in quite some time, if ever, for Black businesses,” Wilson said. 

However, not all citizens during public comment thought the AUX’s development is an appropriate use of ARPA funds, which are intended to help relieve negative impacts and losses due to the pandemic.

Evanston Resident Tina Paden said the city needs to have safeguards in place in case the project fails. She said the city should instead focus its investments in businesses already in Evanston.

“It’s called a rescue plan,” Paden said. “You will need to rescue the businesses that are already in existence that have been hurt by COVID-19.”

Others advocated for permanent low-income housing in Evanston as a better use of the COVID-19 relief funds to support Black residents. 

Although he ultimately voted in favor of the measure, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) addressed these concerns about affordable housing.

“(I’m) excited about the AUX … but that doesn’t mean we aren’t also going to focus on affordable housing and workforce development,” Burns said. “The work isn’t done, and the money isn’t entirely gone.” 

Construction is scheduled to begin November and is expected to take a year to finish. 

The AUX’s proposal stated the hub hopes to encourage further investment from public and private sources once it launches its public fundraising campaign for the $7 million endeavor. In addition to the grant, the AUX has already received $1.7 million in initial philanthropy donations. 

Construction is scheduled to begin November and is expected to take a year to finish. Lifetime Evanston resident Lonnie Wilson said this project is about establishing a legacy for Evanston’s Black community. 

“This will show Black and brown kids that Evanston will support them,” Lonnie Wilson said. 

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Twitter: @shannonmtyler

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Twitter: @katewalter03

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