Wilmette, News

Trustees support shared use of Veterans Park between community and incoming restaurant EvaDean’s

All’s well that end’s well — even if it is a quarter till midnight.

A lengthy Wilmette Village Board meeting, which covered multiple issues, on Tuesday, Feb. 28, ended with trustees approving a liquor license for incoming bakery/restaurant EvaDean’s and setting a course for the restaurant’s partial use of Veterans Park.

An informal poll showed a majority of trustees supported a nonexclusive licensing agreement allowing EvaDean’s to share the Village-owned park with the community, and Village staff was directed to draw up the agreement for future discussion and consideration.

“I hope you EvaDean’s folks view this as a positive,” Trustee Peter Barrow said to three of the restaurant’s leaders who were in attendance. “That we are moving forward, that we are giving the staff good direction and we have a sense what we’re going to do. And I hope this enables you to stick to your timetable, because we all are eager to see you open and successful.” 

A rendering of EvaDean’s Bakery and Restaurant, set to open in 2023.

As previously reported by The Record, EvaDean’s purchased the building at 1115-1117 Central Ave. — the longtime home to children’s clothing store Lad & Lassie — in March 2022 with knowledge of potential incentives and potential use of Veteran’s Park.

Lad & Lassie closed in early 2020, leaving a 6,000-square-foot vacant building in the heart of downtown Wilmette. According to previous board memos, finding a tenant “was a challenge” because of the size, shape and age of the building.

In marketing materials for the space, which trustees viewed prior to their release, the Village included an image of restaurant diners seated in Veterans Park.

In 2021, the Downer family — including Jory Downer, owner of Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston — began discussions with the Village on EvaDean’s to be operated by Jordana Downer and husband Garrett VanBergen.

A financial incentive and limited use of the public park reportedly received “informal support” from the board prior to the Downers’ purchase of the property, but at January’s board meeting, Trustee Dan Sullivan criticized internal communication around the project and did not support liquor service in Veterans Park.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Sullivan retracted his pledge to vote against EvaDean’s liquor license and said after reading a recent letter from the Downer family he had a better grasp on the restaurant’s business model and intentions.

“I’m the one who has added stress to you both,” Sullivan said to Jory and Jordana Downer. “… I have tossed and turned on this since I raised this a few weeks ago. It has nothing to do with (the restaurant). I welcome you and hope you’re wildly successful. … My frustration at the time was you were getting advice and we weren’t seeing the full picture. I needed to see the full picture. This letter finally did it for me.”

Breaking the tension in the room, Jory Downer then quipped from the lectern, “He’s not such a bad guy,” drawing a round of laughter from throughout council chambers.

Sullivan, though, did remain steadfast in his general opposition to the Village licensing a public park, an agreement that would be a first for the Village should it come to fruition.

A preliminary concept showing a possible setup for EvaDean’s outdoor dining in Veterans Park.

Special guests John Jacoby, a former Wilmette Village President, and Andy Haszlakiewicz, the last commander of the shuttered American Legion Post 46, spoke at the meeting.

Veterans Park was commissioned and named during Jacoby’s administration in the 1980s.

“We did not intend for this to be a memorial. … We did not intend to create hallowed ground,” Jacoby said. “We just intended to thank the veterans for their service and to hold them up as a model of service for the state, nation and community.”

Though Post 46 members have since combined with another local legion chapter, Haszlakiewicz continues to assist in the Village’s Veterans Day ceremonies at Veteran’s Park.

Haszlakiewicz said he polled former Post 46 members and received 12 responses — all in favor of a more active use of the small park.

“They all said the same thing, that it was a great idea,” he said. “It’s going to give exposure to that park and that (flag pole with tribute plaque at the center of the park). All that park has been used for is as a pass through to a parking lot.”

EvaDean’s plan calls for outdoor dining using about a third of Veterans Park, which is to the east of the building. Preliminary renderings call for seating to be set back off Central Avenue and away from the flag pole.

The setup would need a buildout that would undo a portion of the $127,000 park rehab the Village recently funded. The work could cost about $60,000 and include the relocation of a tree, Village Manager Mike Braiman said.

Trustees favored shared costs for the renovations; though, details on the project’s finances are not final.

Four board members — Kathy Dodd, Gina Kennedy, Peter Barrow and Village President Senta Plunkett — favored a nonexclusive licensing agreement with EvaDean’s, meaning the seating would also be open to the public when not in use by restaurant customers. The other trustees signaled a preference to keep the tables exclusive to EvaDean’s during its business hours (proposed 7 a.m.-4 p.m.), while Sullivan said he was not supportive of any licensing of the park.

EvaDean’s liquor license was approved with unanimous trustee support.

Braiman said staff will develop a draft of a license agreement and share it at an unspecified future meeting.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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