Selling Evanston Cheap | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Selling Evanston Cheap


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To the editor:

[Re: Neighborhood News, October 31]

Not long ago, the John Buck Company came with its begging bowl to the city of Chicago, demanding $14 million for road improvements to go along with its massive Nordstrom-anchored project on North Michigan. Chicago wisely said no. Now Buck and his begging bowl are back, this time before Evanston. On a project a tenth the size in Evanston's Research Park, they are demanding fully $16 million in public money, not even counting a grab bag of costs for other items on Buck's wish list which haven't been quantified. Unlike Mayor Daley's hard bargainers, many on our city council appear to be falling over themselves to see who can give away the store first.

Besides requiring Evanston to pay for a 1,000-place parking garage and for relocating a senior citizens' center, Buck is asking the city to convey title--lock, stock, and barrel--to five and a half acres of prime downtown real estate for the sweetheart sum of $1 million (about the price of two single-family homes on one-sixth-of-an-acre lots). Once the property is theirs, it is theirs for good to do with as they wish even if and when their grandiose cineplex-shopping plan goes bust. Buck "graciously" provides space for a performance center in their proposal, but less graciously allows the arts community only six to nine months to plan and fund it before swallowing it back into the retail pool. We could plan a performance center at leisure on land we already own, but instead we are going to give it to Buck and then plead with him to let us have what we want. Some deal. And there's worse in the proposal, if you take the time to read it.

The competing proposal by Arthur Hill is somewhat better, but it strains credulity to think that this is the best Evanston can do. The land swap and development will have a dominating influence on the character of Evanston well into the next century. Yet the city council is not asking the hard questions about money, traffic, and other impacts that need to be asked. Last Wednesday's Economic Development Commission meeting had all the appearance of a carefully crafted love-fest between the council and the developers. We, the public, were muzzled. On November 12 at the civic center, the muzzle comes off. This is the only remaining opportunity for public comment before the juggernaut rolls over us. I hope that with enough citizen encouragement the city council can find the wisdom to slow down and give this project the careful scrutiny it deserves.

R.T. Pierrehumbert


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