Council members, city staff and local business owners are working together on a program to ensure that Evanston’s long-standing businesses and nonprofits can stay in the community in the future.
The new Legacy Business program, still in early development, will provide direct support to Evanston-based businesses and nonprofits that have been operating for at least 20 years.
The program is being developed by a working group led by Council Member Clare Kelly (1st Ward) and including Council Member Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward), Carl Klein and Suzi Reinhold of the Preservation Commission, the Economic Development Officer Paul Zalmazek and urban planner Cade Sterling.
Its mission statement explains that legacy businesses are defining characteristics of Evanston and its neighborhoods, and that their loss would be detrimental to both the city’s heritage and its economic vitality. It reads:
“Evanston’s heritage resources are vitally important, linking its residents to their physical surroundings and defining the town’s unique character and identity. However, Evanston’s living heritage remains vastly under-represented and vulnerable to threats such as inappropriate alterations, increasing rental structures, changes in the market economy and related development pressures.“
Businesses seeking heritage recognition will nominate themselves to the city and, once approved, will be placed on an online registry and given a plaque for their location. City staff are creating a request for proposals for artists and web designers to create the plaque design and website, and tentatively plan to release it Sept. 22.
The program will also provide grants and assistance to organizations to keep them open and thriving. Areas of assistance offered include physical restoration and repair of distinctive features, assistance with marketing and strategic planning, as well as assistance with rent stabilization and lease renegotiations between businesses and landlords. .
Sterling said negotiating long-term leases will be particularly important.
“A lot of these businesses don’t have long-term leases, so we would try to negotiate 20-year leases for a business at a stable rent structure,” Sterling said. “There’s the normal stress of running a day-to-day business, but there’s also the constant stress of, ‘Will my building be demolished for something else, or will my rent go up? once the lease is changed every two years or so? “, and all of this is extremely stressful.”
The task force initially identified a list of 31 long-standing companies as pilot candidates through its own research, and has now compiled a list of nearly 200 companies and nonprofits submitted by community members. via a Google form.
The businesses on both lists are diverse in their locations in Evanston, whether they provide goods or services and whether or not they have a public storefront. Sixty-seven have been around for at least 50 years and 13 for about a century or more.
The next task force meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 29 at 4 p.m. in room 2402 at the Civic Center. The owners of the 31 companies on the initial list were invited to attend and, in Sterling’s words, “act a bit like a steering committee.” for the working group moving forward.