Evanston Economic Development Centers COVID Recovery, Office Tenants

Once a town that relied on office buildings to attract workers and stimulate business, Evanston’s economy suffered when many offices were moved away. Now the city government is working with business districts to rejuvenate the economy and Approved over a dozen large-scale real estate developments in the last 18 months.

The Daily looked at what is happening with economic development projects around the city and the equity and development issues these projects present.

What is the purpose of the development in downtown Evanston?

Evanston’s current focus on office building development is part of the city’s broader plan to restore the local economy to pre-pandemic levels.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development officer, said Evanston has historically benefited from its high concentration of office space. According to a May 2021 Report by the city’s COVID-19 Business Task Force, Evanston’s daytime population before the pandemic was nearly 30,000 workers.

Still, as office buildings have transitioned to remote working over the past two years, Zalmezak said most day office workers no longer physically work in Evanston.

Now, Zalmezak said the city is working with Evanston’s three main business district groups, the Main-Dempster Mile, Central Street and Downtown Evanston organizations, bring office workers back.

“Having a strong daytime population is extremely important to us,” said Annie Coakley, executive director of the downtown Evanston business district. “It’s people going to lunch, they’re shopping, they’re getting their hair cut, they’re going to the gym – all the things we provide.”

Coakley said Downtown Evanston is focusing on a campaign called Downtown Evanston Works to attract office building tenants. The campaign worked to bring in new tenants from 1732 to 1740 Orrington Ave., the site of the former Burger King which will be transformed into a 10-storey office building.

Does this initiative serve all residents?

Evanston’s main business districts are classed as Special Service Areas, meaning they receive funding from government tax levies to support businesses in the areas. The city has four SSAs in total, as the eastern and western sections of Central Street each include their own SSA.

Linda Del Bosque, founder of Evanston Woman Magazine and president of the Latinx Business Alliance, said these SSAs are designed to exclude black and brown communities. She said that although areas like the West End and Howard Street – which have a larger black population – have their own business organisations, they receive much less government funding because they are not SSAs.

“If you look at business districts, they’re designed to exploit the black and brown community,” Del Bosque said.

In October 2021, Del Bosque launched a petition to turn all of Evanston into a larger SSA. She said this would allow funding to reach all businesses equally, ultimately spurring economic growth, and wants to present the proposal to city council later this year.

What is outside of downtown Evanston?

The SSA Main-Dempster Mile and the two on Central Street have never relied on office building development. Instead, they focus on supporting small businesses and providing living spaces for commuters from Chicago or downtown Evanston.

Katherine Gotsick, executive director of the Main-Dempster Mile SSA, said her region is focused on residential development and workforce housing for workers commuting to Chicago and downtown Evanston.

While construction may disrupt the area and create temporary parking issues, Gotsick said the new development will ultimately direct more buyers to the small businesses the Main-Dempster Mile is known for.

“That’s the kind of atmosphere we’d like to have: where people are constantly on the streets, shopping, having fun, and serving the livelihood of small business owners,” Gotsick said.

Angela Shaffer, executive director of Central Street SSAs, said the region is also prioritizing small business development through rebranding campaigns and greater collaboration with business owners.

“It’s about creating opportunities,” Shaffer said. “We’re just trying to get the word out through social media and making sure we highlight any businesses that need help.”

Both Shaffer and Gotsick said SSA representatives meet regularly with the city to discuss how projects in the three areas can spur growth for the city as a whole. Representatives from all three regions also highlighted the importance of the Northwest as an economic resource.

With many large-scale developments on the horizon, Gotsick said adaptability is the key to survival and growth.

“A business owner whose business has been around for over 100 years once told me that when you own a business that long, you realize things have to change,” Gotsick said. “They won’t stay the same. And you have to adapt. »

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Twitter: @lilylcarey

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