Howard Street’s renaissance

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Howard Street, one of Evanston’s southern borders, had spent the last few decades a bit neglected.

“Howard Street was the lost child, so to speak,” said Alderman Ann Rainey. The stretch of the street on the east side of Evanston toward Lake Michigan had many years of failing businesses and empty storefronts.

Rainey, representing Evanston’s eighth district, which includes Howard Street, had long been a proponent to develop this area.

“We got some fresh new thinking,” she said, once city manager Wally Bobkiewicz came on board in 2009. “Wally and I decided the only way to get development on Howard Street would be to control the properties.”

A 17-story apartment building had opened in 2008 at 415 Howard St., then re-opened at 415 Premier Apartments.

“That building jump-started it,” Rainey said. “People who live north of Howard had no place to go.”

In 2011, the City of Evanston purchased several properties along the street utilizing Tax Increment Finance District funds. Then, they sought out good tenants to open new businesses.

“We vetted people carefully,” she said. In March 2012, the city leased space to Anne Carlson and Cody Modeer, veterans of Chicago food and establishments.

The space was revamped into a cocktail bar, which is now the bustling Ward Eight, 629 Howard St. The city welcomed Ward Eight with a ribbon cutting on Dec. 11, 2012, and the grand opening was the next day. The bar now is well known in the area for its craft cocktails.

The next up was a restaurant. In fact, it was much more innovate for not only the 8th Ward, but also Evanston itself. The Peckish Pig, 623 Howard St., is Evanston’s first brewpub.

The Peckish Pig held its grand opening on March 20, 2014. It hosted an official ribbon cutting with the City of Evanston April 3.

“It has been a crazy beginning of this journey, but we are so thrilled by all the positive feedback and support,” proclaimed an April 24 post on the brewpub’s website. “Evanston is a great community, and we are so proud to open here in Evanston, specifically Howard Street, to work on the efforts of bringing more business to this underserved area.”

In the last two years, the 8th Ward businesses have come together to form the Howard Street Business Association.

“It’s a very interesting mix of people,” Rainey said,” speaking of some of the older businesses on Howard Street, including the Howard Street Animal Hospital, which has been there for 30 years. “From the cleaners to the gas station,” she said, “there are some anchors on that street that have hung around.”

For the future, the city plans to continue the development of the area, including two outdoor cafes slated to open on the street this summer.

“The reputational issues for Howard Street are diminishing by the second,” she added. “You put something positive there, and people will come.”