Economic Development, Rethinking Revenue

Run it Up the Flagpole

Page from GFR

It may have begun with a flagpole. This particular flagpole was not the majestic vehicle for any kind of deeply meaningful observance, like Memorial Day, July 4th, or baseball’s opening day. This flagpole was something much sadder—a nod to a time lost. Its bare metal was especially grim on a cold winter day in Evanston, Illinois. The wind off Lake Michigan, though probably a mile away, could still be felt. Paul Zalmezak is the director of economic development for the City of Evanston.

He is showing the flagpole, which the city owns, to a tour of national delegates who are engaged in the GFOA initiative, “Putting Assets to Work.”

Despite its meager appearance and apparent obsolescence, the flagpole had actually been a topic of conversation in the community for several years, for a very unlikely reason: the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the street from the flagpole was a low-slung, mixed-use brick building from the first half of the 20th century. There are a number of restaurants on the ground floor. These eateries face the sidewalk and arterial street underneath the elevated Purple Line tracks that connect Evanston to Chicago. During the pandemic’s lockdown, this street was not big enough for the kind of spontaneous al fresco dining that many restaurants adopted—but there was more than enough space next to that flagpole.....What began as a conversation about eliminating an old flagpole has triggered new ideas about how to best steward Evanston into the future—a vision the entire community can rally around.