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 $2.6 million purchase of south Evanston’s Little Beans Cafe

Daily file photo by Shun Graves
Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma said he changed his mind in support of the city’s purchase of the now-shuttered Little Beans Cafe in south Evanston.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) entered the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center’s hallowed halls Monday expecting to oppose the proposed city purchase of south Evanston’s Little Beans Cafe, a family cafe and bustling children’s activity center.

But after Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) described the center as the only children’s center that opened early enough — and stayed open late — for his 2-year-old, Nieuwsma changed his mind.

“When councilmember Burns was talking about his 2-year-old I remembered when my twins, who are now 13, were that age — and the number of times we went to Skokie to the exploratorium there,” Nieuwsma said. “Two-year-olds need a place to jump around. Skokie has this in their parks department, and I’m going to support this.”

City Council ultimately approved a $2.6 million purchase of the now-shuttered Little Beans Cafe at 430 Asbury Ave. after a 7-2 vote. The city plans to convert the space to a gymnastics center for the public.

Nieuwsma entered the motion as “a weak no,” he said, but his flip left only two councilmembers in opposition to the purchase. Alds. Clare Kelly (1st) and Thomas Suffredin (6th) voted against the proposal.

Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak outlined the urgency of the proposal prior to the vote —  Zalmezak said he’d spoken with the property owner, and the city was deep into the owner’s shot clock to secure the property. 

“He has his timeline, he’s expecting a decision tonight and there’s no further room,” Zalmezak said of the property owner. “He’s kept this off the market … in good faith, working with us on the acquisition, and he has people lined up for it.”

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th), whose ward contains the property, thanked Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson for alerting the council of the purchase opportunity. Since purchasing real estate falls outside her department’s scope, Thompson said the matter skipped her board’s approval.

“What I’ve really appreciated about the parks department has been their move toward being more equitable,” Geracaris said. “This is a really strong opportunity. I don’t take the idea of spending $2.6 million lightly.”

For Kelly, the purchase provided an unnecessary addition to the previously approved 2024 budget. Kelly said she didn’t oppose the building’s programming possibilities, but she couldn’t support the addition of new recreational facilities. 

“I’m not prepared to spend millions of dollars to purchase a building and maintain it,” Kelly said. “I don’t think this is fiscally responsible at this point of time when we’ve already passed our budget.”

Burns said the Little Beans Cafe’s accommodating hours proved pertinent for both him and his wife in caring for their 2-year-old child. Many parents have come to rely on the business’ consistency, he added.

When the window to purchase the building presented itself, Thompson said the city needed to move forward expeditiously. She said she jumped at the opportunity — one she didn’t know existed.

“When I heard the news that (Little Beans Cafe) was going out of business, I heard from a lot of families that were super bummed,” Geracaris said. “For parents with young kids, it was a great business to have in the community.”

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