Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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City Council approves 15-year lease to temporarily relocate city center

Daily file photo by Colin Boyle
Councilmembers listened to a presentation on options for replacing or renovating the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center at their Monday meeting.

City Council voted 6-3 to authorize downtown office rentals for city government at its Monday meeting, allowing city operations to relocate from the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center to 909 Davis St.

The downtown lease authorized Monday will last for 15 years, with an option to exit after seven, according to city council meeting documents. Evanston city staff will work in about 53,000 square feet of office space. Estimated occupancy fees will come out to about $2.4 million annually.

The move is necessary because of outdated infrastructure at the Morton Civic Center, Evanston officials said. The building was originally constructed in two phases in 1901 and 1924, and the city acquired it in 1975. 

“We have a number of building systems that are failing,” Capital Planning and Engineering Bureau Chief Lara Biggs said. “We have had to do emergency repairs numerous times on the HVAC without actually affecting any real major improvement that would reduce the amount that we have to do to renovate the HVAC in the future.”

Under the terms of the new lease, city personnel can start using the Davis Street space in June if construction is completed, though the lease term officially starts in October. After a 16-month period of abatement, the city would start paying rent in February 2026.

Some councilmembers said they were concerned about the length of the lease. Ald. Devon Reid (8th) moved to limit a lease to 10 years and then motioned to table the decision –– both without success. 

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) also said she would prefer a shorter lease, but said she is aware it might detract from rent abatement, tenant improvement allowance and other benefits city staff have already negotiated with the Davis Street property owner. If the city chooses to terminate the lease after seven years, it would have to pay for the cost of the benefits.

The decision of whether to authorize a lease for the Civic Center relocation came too abruptly, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said. She said Mayor Daniel Biss improperly added this vote to the agenda, after a “failure to indicate the manner in which this measure was to be taken up.”

Biss disagreed. 

“This is on the agenda as an action item because of a discussion that happened at an executive session that all of you were at,” he said. “Are there other people up here who were taken aback… who don’t feel like they were not a part of the decision that led us here tonight?” 

Other councilmembers did not respond.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) and other councilmembers said they supported the lease because its downtown location could help revitalize commerce in the business district. 

The new location could also help the city attract younger staff, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said.

“If they were to choose where to work, it would not be at a former school couched between two residential blocks,” Burns said, referring to the Civic Center. “I’m excited by the opportunity to think about, how would we build a facility, where would it be located today?”

The vote followed a presentation and discussion on potential options for a new or renovated permanent civic center as well as police and fire headquarters.

If councilmembers want to construct a new city government center, building above the 1800 Maple St. parking garage or at the Farmers Market Site are possibilities, representatives from construction consulting firm AECOM said Monday. The presenters also said replacing current Northwestern buildings like Engelhart Hall or 906 University Place could be an option. 

Otherwise, the city could also choose to completely overhaul the Civic Center, with the option of moving police and fire headquarters to its current campus as well. 

AECOM consultants’ estimates for Civic Center update costs range from roughly $120,000,000 to $159,000,000.

Kelly said she supported staying in the Civic Center while renovating it in phases, describing other plans as looking like “a gut job.” 

Still, some councilmembers agreed that operational and financial factors may need to trump emotional considerations. Nieuwsma said the city should look at quantitative data to make its final choice.

“If we move out of here, I’m going to miss it,” Nieuwsma said. “How much is that worth?” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @william2tong

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