Manufacturer agrees to triple investment

Evanston Public Works Director Gordon Robinson talks about raising water rates in the near future, something that hasn’t happened in five years. The discussion came at the Evanston City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 26. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — A special Evanston City Council meeting was held prior to the regularly-scheduled work session on Tuesday, April 26. The special meeting was called to hear a request from Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill for the council to authorize a first amendment to the development agreement with Avalon International, an aluminum manufacturing company planning to move to Evanston.

“We need an amendment,” O’Neill said. “Avalon has agreed to put more than was originally agreed to, of their own finances, toward the construction.”

Evanston City Attorney Dennis Boal said, due to the increased cost of construction materials, Avalon was increasing their contribution from $500,000 to $1.5 million for construction of the building. Boal said there is still quite a ways to go and the next step will be the inside work at the facility.

“I am encouraged by Avalon’s decision to increase their contribution, as it shows their continued interest and commitment,” Mayor Kent Williams said.

The council unanimously approved the amendment to the development agreement with Avalon. They then adjourned the special meeting and opened the work session.

Julie O’Connell, chair of Urban Renewal Agency, introduced herself and the two other board members who were in attendance: vice chair Nathan Prete and secretary Sara Pullins.

“We are required to present you with an annual report,” O’Connell said. “I have given you all copies to review, and I’d like to share some of that tonight.”

O’Connell said URA’s budget is at $280,753, and the biggest drain on that is the maintenance of the Strand Theatre. She said the income they derive from renting the facility never keeps up with the cost of the utilities and maintenance. The board is currently discussing a rent increase for the facility, O’Connell said.

URA hosts numerous fund-raising activities and events in Evanston, O’Connell said. Among those are the downtown Amazing Race, Brew Fest; cornhole competitions; the annual Downtown Trick-or-Treat, the summer concerts at Depot Square on Thursday nights, with many more activities planned.

She said Rocky Mountain Power has usually donated $2,000 annually for the summer concerts; however, this fiscal year they awarded $7,000, which paid for all of the concerts and allowed to extend them.

No events were scheduled in 2020 due to COVID-19 but they did hold the Brew Fest in 2021 and O’Connell said it was very successful. 

Recently, URA sent out a request for proposals (RFP) for the Evanston Hotel, hoping to finally be able to do something with that building.

“We just participated in URA training today,” O’Connell said. “It was very helpful and I think you will benefit from their presentation, which follows. We are hoping to rebuild and restructure our board this year and do more than just fund-raising activities.”

URA training specialist Mike Scholl and Matt Ashby, Main Street specialist with Ayres & Associates, who provide URA/Main Street education and training, followed O’Connell’s presentation.

“We want to show you how you can use URA to accomplish your goals for the city,” Scholl said. “Urban Renewal refers to removing blight and decay from areas, and it dates back to the WWII era.”

For revitalization of an area to take place, Scholl said, there are two components. First, the authority to make it happen — provided by the public, boards, grants, money, and the power to complete improvements. The second component is the plan or project area which is specific to redevelopment projects.

Scholl then explained a new tool for financing redevelopment projects. Tax increment financing (TIF) figures the amount of revenue gained over and above the base. He said once a project is approved by the URA and the city council, it locks in the investment cost and uses the future revenues on property taxes to fund the project. 

“It does not raise property taxes but redirects them as a result of the URA project,” Scholl said. “In order to use TIF, the project has to be addressing conditions of blight.”

The lessons for URA, Scholl said, are contained in four steps:

• Start with a small project and small steps.

• Focus on what drives tax increments, such as private investments.

• Have a discrete plan and project areas that are more predictable.

• Be more realistic about the revenue potential with Wyoming’s low tax base.

“It is a great tool for private investors because property tax is easier to predict than sales tax,” Scholl said.

Ashby then explained how URA and Main Street programs can work together to improve downtown areas. He said Main Street can be responsible for design, promotions and the downtown business economic vitality, while URA can be used within the city limits as one more tool for improvement with their events and volunteer force.

“We will be continuing our training tomorrow with URA and will focus on forming that partnership and building the structure of their organization and ways to roll out those tax incentives,” Ashby said.

Mayor Williams and the council thanked both Scholl and Ashby for the information.

O’Connell said when URA comes up with a project area and a plan, they will bring it to the council and then it is the council’s job to develop the funding and possible use of the TIF.

Evanston Public Works Director Gordon Robinson addressed the council concerning the water line replacements for 18th, 19th, Summit and Sage streets.

“I just wanted to make you aware of the cost for these replacements,” Robinson said. “All of these lines are old, and they really need to be replaced. We’ve had a lot of problems with breaks and other issues.”

Robinson said that the engineer’s estimate for 18th and 19th streets was $1.3 million, and the low bid was at $1.6 million. The Sage Street estimate was $400,000 and the low bid was just over $500,000, but there are firefighting issues there. He said the budget already has $600,000 budgeted for Sage Street. Robinson said they plan to do all of the work this current summer.

Melinda Epperson, representing Evanston Child Development Center (ECDC) asked to speak and thanked the council for making Sage Street, where their facility is located, a priority.

Robinson moved the discussion to water rates. He told the council that Sulphur Creek Reservoir was nearly full and the water level is better than last year, though they still need to encourage conservation. He said since that as the council is beginning to discuss the fiscal budget, they should consider an increase in water consumption rates because they haven’t been adjusted in five years.

Robinson proposed a tiered rate increase, where the rate doesn’t change until the user goes over 10,000 gallons and then it increases by number of gallons in a tiered fashion. The purpose for the increase, Robinson said, is to encourage conservation. He added that residents 65 years and over receive a 25% discount.

Treasurer Trudy Lym followed that discussion with a brief introduction to the fiscal budget review. She said most of the departments had already given her their operating budgets and she needs to get with the council to discuss capital items.

“We have 6.5% more in our general funds, but expenses still are more than revenues,” Lym said. “However, that amount does not include the AARP funds we haven’t received yet.” 

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