City exploring temporary move from Civic Center offices to downtown

By Bob Seidenberg

Evanston officials are exploring moving city offices from the Morton Civic Center to a downtown site while they consider their next options for the building.

Officials confirmed this week that they have engaged the commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle to facilitate lease negotiations for office space in downtown Evanston.

Officials anticipate presenting comprehensive lease options and potential timelines, along with ideas for dealing with the city’s Police/Fire headquarters in a shared building at 1454 Elmwood Ave. and 909 Lake St., at the City Council’s Jan. 22 meeting.

In addition, officials expect that a feasibility study the city contracted for with AECOM, a Chicago firm, in late 2022 – to help reach an informed choice on renovation versus relocation – will be released in the next couple of weeks and will be an item for discussion at the meeting.

Fourth Ward Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma brought attention to the issue at a ward meeting Dec. 5, disclosing that the city was exploring options on the buildings, including temporarily relocating city offices downtown or possibly finding permanent rental space in the area. He also said officials were considering a phased construction of a new “municipal complex” on both sides of Elmwood Avenue and Lake Street where the current Police and Fire Department public safety building is located.

At the meeting, Nieuwsma maintained both buildings have been held together with “duct tape and Band-Aids” and said it was time for the city to discard that approach “and either do surgery or we need to call the patient dead and move on.”

Civic Center status a longstanding issue

Discussions about relocating city operations to a new civic center date back to the 1990s. In the past, officials have maintained that the 120,000-square-foot existing Civic Center, a former Catholic boarding school, is too big for the city’s needs and lacks features of a more modern office building that is efficiently laid out.

In a 2007 advisory referendum, however, residents voted by more than 80% in support of the city not moving out.

In recent years, though, officials have called attention to critical issues with major building systems, as well as concerns about ADA compliance, security and customer experience.

City Manager Luke Stowe said Thursday that “the bottom line is [that] whether we do a major rehab of the Civic Center, build a new Civic Center, or some other options, we need to move to downtown Evanston for some period of time.”

He also added that “moving Civic Center operations to downtown Evanston will provide a substantial boost for our local businesses while also helping the city retain and attract top talent.”

Kennedy: Only ‘normal maintenance’ is needed

In recent weeks, officials have been taking some council members and others on tours of the Civic Center and Police/Fire headquarters building so they “can better understand the challenges each building presents and make informed decisions regarding future improvements.”

Evanston resident John Kennedy, one of the citizens who accompanied council members on one tour, said he didn’t see conditions matching Nieuwsma’s description, at least at the Civic Center.

Kennedy was the founder of the Friends of Civic Center group, which collected signatures to put the initiative to save the Civic Center on the ballot in 2007.

“I didn’t see anything that needed a Band-Aid, except for normal maintenance, which the city has not been providing over the years,” he said Thursday. “We have essentially been living rent-free and were not contributing sufficiently to the maintenance of the building.”


The city faces a different set of issues in its direction on the Police/Fire headquarters, said Lara Biggs, the city’s capital planning and engineering bureau chief, on Thursday.

Built originally in 1949 to accommodate 87 people, the number of personnel at the building has grown to 220, she said in an earlier memo.

Share this post

Post Comment