ROGERS PARK — The Howard Street business corridor that forms the border between Rogers Park and Evanston was battered by the pandemic, erasing gains made on business development and public safety.
Now, a Rogers Park business group and the city of Evanston are teaming on a first joint plan to improve Howard Street.
The Rogers Park Business Alliance and city of Evanston were awarded more than $99,000 in state grant funding for a study of the Howard Street business corridor. The study will form the basis of a recovery plan for Howard Street, according to the two agencies.
It is the first time Rogers Park business leaders and Evanston will team for an economic development plan to benefit both sides of Howard Street, officials with the business alliance and city of Evanston said.
Previous efforts at economic development have looked only at one side of the street, as the south and north sides of Howard Street are in different cities. Evidence of that can be seen in the competing street banners that line Howard Street west of the Red Line tracks, where the border between the two cities starts.
“We want to blur the lines that make Howard Street a boundary,” said Sandi Price, executive director of the Rogers Park Business Alliance. “It shouldn’t be a boundary. It should be a neighborhood.”
The study will create a revitalization plan for Howard Street from Sheridan Road to Western Avenue.
Evanston and the city have made made previous improvements to Howard Street. A multi-year streetscaping project completed in 2014 brought improved infrastructure to Howard Street from the Red Line tracks east, where both sides of the street are within the city of Chicago.
Both cities partnered to rebuild a portion of Howard Street in West Ridge. But there has never been a joint plan to boost economic activity on the street.
That changes with the study and action plan, which is aimed at identifying the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the corridor.
There were a number of small businesses on Howard Street that closed during the pandemic, including I’m Soul Hungry and Salerno’s On Tap. Issues of public safety along the corridor have also resurged, hurting the businesses that survived the pandemic.
Those problems are not confined to just the Chicago or Evanston sides of Howard Street — they impact the area as a whole, said Paul Zalmezak, economic development manager for the city of Evanston.
“Howard Street functions as a business district and not a political, municipal boundary,” Zalmezak said. “Having a unified front to address those issues gets us further than we’ve gone in the past.”
The study will lay out the challenges impacting Howard Street and the ways to address them, Zalmezak and Price said.
The study will hopefully provide ways Evanston and Rogers Park Business Alliance can coordinate on development efforts such as facade improvement grants and joint events such as street festivals, Zalmezak said.
A similar corridor study was recently undertaken for Clark Street in Rogers Park. It laid out improvements coming to the street, including a reworked Devon Avenue and Clark Street intersection, a new pedestrian zone and crosswalk art. Devon Avenue on the border of Edgewater and Rogers Park is also undergoing a corridor study.
“There are things we should be doing to Howard Street that have come to other streets,” Price said.
The joint study is being funded by a state economic development program to help business corridors rebound from the pandemic. Nearly $3.5 million went to 42 municipalities and business development groups, with the Howard Street project the only area in the city to receive funding under the program.
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