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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Downtown stakeholders quell economic concerns at LWVE panel

Hannah Webster/The Daily Northwestern
Panelists talk after the Economic State of Downtown Evanston luncheon hosted by the League of Women Voters of Evanston.

Downtown Evanston business district stakeholders met economic concerns with optimism Saturday during a panel hosted by the League of Women Voters of Evanston.

Hot-button issues including town-gown relations, safety and parking made up the majority of the discussion, which was held downtown at Asian fusion restaurant Koi. 

Former Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who moderated the panel, asked panelists to share their perspectives and concerns before introducing community concerns.

Dan Kelch, owner of several Evanston restaurants, said that while the area has changed dramatically over his 32 years as a business owner, “this downtown is better than it’s ever been.”

Jim Nash, the managing broker of Farnsworth-Hill Property Management, which manages several commercial and residential properties downtown, highlighted the community’s resilience throughout the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and through several quarantines.

He said that out of his 140 commercial tenants, only two were lost during shutdowns. 

Alongside public transportation, Nash said Northwestern is one of downtown’s biggest assets. He described how retail tenants saw business return to usual after Northwestern faculty began to return to work after teaching remotely through the pandemic. 

“I’d love to see the Northwestern-Evanston relationship blend back into where it would serve both entities to its maximum capacity,” he said. 

SESP junior Aimee Resnick, who was invited to represent NU on the panel, advocated for increased civic engagement from students while acknowledging that “students are transient.” 

“When we’re talking about Northwestern-downtown Evanston relations, we also have to focus on the citizens that are staying here long term, not just the students,” Resnick said. 

Suffredin then introduced several concerns raised in informal focus groups with residents. He said that safety was the issue most frequently brought up. 

Andy Vick, executive director of Downtown Evanston, a non-profit dedicated to programming and advertising downtown, said the fact that Evanston is a small urban community makes safety a top priority. At the same time, he encouraged residents not to overemphasize the issue.

Resnick added that, in her experience, there was “no perception of unsafeness” in downtown Evanston among NU students, while many safety concerns are rooted in racism and stigmas of mental illness. 

Evanston Made Founder and Co-Director Lisa Degliantoni, who represented the community’s art scene on the panel, praised the responsiveness of the Evanston Police Department to safety concerns downtown. She said she has not worked with an artist who had any safety concerns. 

The panel also addressed concerns about paid parking, which residents said can drive away business.

Kelch said that public garages are a cheaper alternative to street parking he encourages customers to take advantage of. Other panelists also said that while paid parking can be bothersome, it is needed to generate churn outside of businesses. 

“These are the realities of our community,” Vick said. “But we are going to continue to work to look for ways that we can help shave some of the pain points off if we can.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @hannahe_webster

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