Jeff Michael and his father Daniel were taking a walk through tour after they purchased the North Shore Hotel last year.
Standing in the hotel’s high-ceilinged ballroom, his father was overtaken with a familiar feeling.
“Hey, this is the room where I got married,” he recalled.
There’s a definite sentimental value, his son said, to their Horizon Realty Group’s efforts to restore the once opulent building to its former luster, he said.
They received strong backing for that move.
Evanston City Council members gave the go ahead Aug. 12 for the developers to move forward on a renovation of one of the city’s historic residence hotels.
Aldermen voted to grant special zoning approval to the applicants to build an eight-story tower addition to the building, which would be renamed the North Shore Residence.
Originally built in 1919 as a 350-room hotel, the North Shore Hotel was one of a number of upscale residential hotels built during a building boom.
The Homestead, Georgian, Margarita, and Orrington Hotel were other buildings that went up during the same period.
In recent years, the building has seen a decline in occupancy due to the age and condition of the building, and lack of amenities, staff noted in a report.
The new owner are proposing a new exercise room, indoor pool, wellness center, in house movie theater and other amenities for the building.
Aldermen approved the proposal at the Aug. 12 meeting, though first considering a provision that would have required Horizon to set aside 10 percent of the units for affordable housing.
The seniors who live in the building constitute “the fastest growing group in the country,” argued Barbara Sittler, who operates Senior Connection, which links volunteers with seniors, helping them with their needs.
“We have a huge amount of people who are living in Evanston on very low, fixed incomes, who are not going to earn more money as they age,” she said.
The North Shore Hotel is in close proximity to stores for them. If unable to maintain new rates, some residents may have to leave Evanston altogether, she said.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl also joined the debate, saying she heard of cases where seniors were already forced to move from their residences because of higher rents.
Michael said no residents have been forced to move because of the renovation, but acknowledged that higher rents eventually “go with the territory,” in the move to improve the building.
Meanwhile, some council members argued it was too late in the process to introduce the proposal.
The city’s Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and city staff all made recommendations in favor of the ordinance.
Alderman Ann Rainey argued that the North Shore is affordable, especially when compared to other senior living communities in the area.
“It’s not the upscale Georgian. Its not Westminster. It’s not those places,” she said. Rather, it’s costs fall in the middle, she said.
Alderman Judy Fiske, in whose ward the building is located, said because of the hotel’s failing condition, she was worried a new owner might consider the building for student housing or tear it down and put something else up that would displace everyone in the hotel.
Considering the building’s condition, investment is needed “to bring it up to livable standards,” she said. “It’s going to take money.”
As a result, rents, now in the $2,000 range, are naturally going to have to go up, she said.
At the meeting, Michael acknowledged that an increase at the North Shore Residence “comes with the territory.”
“What we have to do there is a huge undertaking. We’re talking about a building in dire need of renovation.”
Further, he said the rents cover a whole host of services, which includes a meal plan, medical services, housekeeping, furnishings and other amenities.
“So you can’t just look at rents (alone) and say this isn’t affordable.’’
He said he and his father had considered other alternatives after purchasing the building, but wanted to maintain the North Shore as an important residence for older adults.
The North Shore has a strong tradition, he said, though even the name can be confusing.
“Is it a hotel, is it senior living, is it apartments?”
One of the new owners strategy will be a branding strategy emphasizing luxury senior living, he said.