Update: City Move from the Civic Center

In a 2007 referendum, Evanstonians by a 6:1 landslide voted to rehab the current historic Lorraine Morton Civic Center at 2100 Ridge Ave. (right, seen in 2007) and keep City government there. Sadly, City government over the next 17 years never respected that mandate with a maintenance or restoration plan for the building.

Instead, in moves that surprised most residents, the Council during the pandemic quietly added Civic Center evaluation to a consulting firm’s contract to look at current police/fire facilities, then, in violation of state law, last October in executive session awarded a no-bid contract to negotiate a lease for new space for City Hall, along with an open-ended commission on sale or lease of the existing Civic Center, without ever bringing that the Council floor in open session. As a March 1 reprimand from the Illinois Attorney General put it, “Behind closed doors, the City Council agreed to bind the City to an agreement with a particular firm that requires, among other things, a potential expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds if the Civic Center is sold.” Meanwhile, the Council approved a 15-year multimillion-dollar  “temporary” lease for several floors of 909 Davis, a small highrise in downtown Evanston between the train stations, based on the work the secretly-hired firm did.

The sudden need to move City functions to 909 Davis, largely unseen publicly, was framed as based on safety and ADA issues, that one alderman said needed to be kept from the public.

Several CSNA board members publicly spoke out against the contract and the lease on good government and fiscal responsibility grounds, altho we did not have time to take a formal organizational position due to the deal largely being crafted out of public sight, then so rapidly adopted. Residents should actively participate in what allegedly will be a public conversation and process as to the fate of the existing Civic Center building and land, and to keep pressure on our elected officials to prevent City government becoming even more non-transparent and inaccessible.