Council members, city staff and local business owners are collaborating on a program to ensure long-standing Evanston businesses and nonprofits can continue to be fixtures of the community in the future.
The new Legacy Business Program, still in its early stages of development, will provide direct support to Evanston-based businesses and nonprofits that have been in business for at least 20 years.
The program is being developed by a task force led by Council Member Clare Kelly (1st Ward) and including Council Member Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward), the Preservation Commission’s Carl Klein and Suzi Reinhold, the Director of Development economist Paul Zalmazek and city planner Cade Sterling. .
Its statement of purpose explains that legacy businesses are defining features of Evanston and its neighborhoods, and that losing them would be detrimental to both the city’s heritage and economic vitality. It reads:
“Evanston’s heritage resources are vitally important, connecting its residents to their physical surroundings and defining the city’s unique character and identity. However, Evanston’s living heritage remains largely underrepresented and vulnerable to threats such as inappropriate alterations, increased rental structures, changes in the market economy, and related development pressures.“
Businesses seeking legacy recognition will apply to the city, and once approved will be placed on an online registry and receive a plaque for their location. City staff is creating a request for proposal for artists and web designers to create the plaque design and website and tentatively plans to release it on September 22nd.
The program will also provide grants and assistance to organizations to stay open and successful. Proposed areas of support include physical restoration and repair of distinctive features, marketing and strategic planning assistance, and support for rent stabilization and lease renegotiation between businesses and landlords.
Sterling said negotiating long-term leases will be especially important.
“A lot of these businesses don’t have long-term leases, so we would try to negotiate 20-year leases for a business with a stable rent structure,” Sterling said. “There’s the normal stress of running a business day-to-day, but there’s also the constant stress of, ‘My building is going to be torn down for something else, or my rent is going to go up once the lease changes every two years or so? “, and it’s all very 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 . through a Google form.
Businesses on both lists are diverse in their Evanston locations, whether they offer goods or services and whether or not they have a public storefront. Sixty-seven have been around for at least 50 years, and 13 have been around for a century or more.
The next working group meeting is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 29, in room 2402 of the Civic Center. The owners of the 31 businesses on the initial list have been invited and, in Sterling’s words, “act a bit like a steering committee.” for the working group to move forward.