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Consultants hired to improve business districts

Evanston’s City Council this week voted to spend $245,000 on consultants to develop an improvement strategy and implementation plan for the city’s 10 business districts.

Ten city staff members and business district leaders reviewed proposals from five firms that responded to the city’s request for proposals and recommended Philadelphia-based Interface Studio, LLC for the project.

Half of the project cost is to be covered by American Rescue Plan Act funds, the rest of the city’s five active tax increment financing districts.

Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak says Interface will carry out “a highly focused, community engagement and business district market analysis to improve the quality and mix of retail, food and entertainment offerings” in the 10 business districts.

Those districts, he says, have seen the COVID-19 pandemic aggravate existing challenges including competition from online retailers, expensive rents and property taxes and parking challenges.

He says the project should develop a blueprint for ways to implement new initiatives or enhance existing strategies to help with immediate economic recovery and “prepare us for future success.”

A new plaza in the Uptown Ecoinnovation District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with integrated stormwater infrastructure.

Interface will be the lead firm for a team that will also include MJB Consultants, a retail planning and real estate consultancy; Ninigret Partners, an economic consulting firm, and All Together, a place-based creative agency that has done some projects for Downtown Evanston in recent years.

A presentation from Interface says the consultants’ “collective roles are to understand the barriers to investment, growth and change in Evanston’s business districts today and push the project stakeholders to think differently about the future of these areas.”

The proposal envisions a seven-month process from May through November that would involve focus groups, community conversations, an interactive virtual workshop and community survey to develop a market plan for the business districts.

The proposal, recommended by the city’s Economic Development Committee, was approved without discussion Monday night on the City Council’s consent agenda.

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