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Downtown Plan

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The City of Evanston has concluded the downtown planning process. We would like to thank all residents, business/property owners, merchants, institutions, and other interested parties that participated and gave us your ideas, comments and suggestions during the effort to make this plan a creative, successful and thorough document to use for future improvements and development.

The final adopted plan includes a revised downtown plan, a form based code pilot study, zoning recommendations, an updated real estate market analysis, and a limited parking utilization study. This work builds on previous downtown planning efforts, as described here.  While the plan been adopted, changes to the Zoning Ordinance to require developments to meet the concepts presented in the plan have not been approved.  Current zoning regulations would therefore apply and are available in the City Code.

Adopted Downtown Plan

A digital copy of the adopted plan is available below. Printed copies have been made available in the City Clerk's office at a cost of $20.


Historically, downtown Evanston has been defined by the following boundaries:  Emerson Street on the north, Hinman Avenue on the east, Lake Street on the south, and Asbury Avenue on the west (map).  During the 1950s, downtown Evanston was the center of North Shore economic activity.  However, throughout the 1960s, suburban shopping centers drew people away from downtown. 

By the 1980s, the downtown was facing a number of challenges, including loss of major retailers (e.g., Marshall Fields, Wieboldts), loss of corporate headquarters (e.g., American Hospital Supply, Tenneco, Washington National Insurance Company); loss of two movie theaters (e.g., Varsity, Valencia); few destination uses except for the public library; minimal evening life; electric service outages; and a competitive disadvantage with Chicago for residential development and with Old Orchard and the Edens Corridor for commercial development.

In 1989, the City adopted the Plan for Downtown.  Discussions leading to the plan indicated a general desire to foster a 24/7 downtown through mixed uses and residential development.  The plan's vision was for an economically vital downtown which is an attractive center of activity, offering diverse services, outstanding physical attributes and convenience.

Beginning in 1989, and culminating in 1993, the City Council completed a comprehensive amendment of the Zoning Ordinance (Title 6 of the City Code).  The downtown zoning districts, which were composed of B4 & B5 zoning designations, were amended to divide the downtown into four downtown zoning districts.  The new downtown districts supported mixed use development, pedestrian orientation, and greater building heights through a planned development process.  The Research Park District provided for a regulatory framework that would assist in development and research in a mixed use business park setting.

In 2000, City Council adopted the city-wide Comprehensive General Plan.  The plan looks at the city's assets in the context of regional change and seeks to build on them by articulating a series of long-range planning goals.  Chapter 5 specifically pertains to the Central Business District (although aspects of other chapters also apply to downtown).  The stated goal for downtown was to promote a mixed-use central business district that is attractive, convenient, and economically vibrant. 

In recent years, the redevelopment and revitalization of downtown Evanston has been significant.  A dramatic increase in residential development, retail and entertainment uses, and a substantial upgrading of public infrastructure (new parking garages and streetscape) has produced today’s vibrant urban center with large office users, residential development, boutique retail uses, entertainment uses such as movie theaters, and the development of the best restaurant concentration in the region outside of downtown Chicago.

In light of all of the changes in the downtown, the City of Evanston held two Downtown Visioning sessions in 2004 that involved a diverse group of roughly 50 downtown stakeholders. The focus of discussion was the future direction and enhancement of the downtown, and the visioning began with an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  Downtown Visioning participants also provided numerous recommendations for improving downtown.  Finally, the downtown goal from the 2000 Comprehensive General Plan was updated as follows:  a mixed-use central business district that is attractive, convenient, livable, accessible, and economically vibrant. The following materials resulted from Downtown Visioning: