City weighs new indoor sports complex

Kimberly Railey

Hoping to fill what many view as a long-standing void, city officials will work this fall with non-profit groups to lease Evanston’s former recycling center as an indoor sports complex.

“We’re excited not only for all of the organizations that are involved but for the community as a whole,” said David Campbell co-president of the Evanston Baseball and Softball Association. “It gives an environment where you have positive, productive and healthy activities for kids.”

In a 6-2 vote at a Sept. 19 meeting, Evanston aldermen gave the American Youth Soccer Organization of Evanston Baseball and Softball Association the green light to move forward with their proposal.

The proposal was first submitted to city officials in August 2010 when the recycling center, located at 2222 Oakton St., shut down, Campbell said.

The groups are aiming to not use any public funds from the city, excluding the lease of the space, Campbell said. They plan on marshalling their current financial resources and fundraising efforts to cover conversion and capital improvement costs.

“Going forward, this has to be a facility that stands on its own in terms of operation,” he said. “We realize that some people are skeptical, but from day one we’ve never requested any city funds.”

Campbell said the sports facility would satisfy a long-time community need, as the city is currently plagued by a “huge deficit” of recreational areas.

“As more and more kids get active and involved in youth sports, there’s not been a corresponding increase in public space,” Campbell said.

He added that during the winter, many youth athletes must travel to other parts of the North Shore and western suburbs – sometimes as far as an hour away – if they want to practice.

“Those are kids who have the economic means and the wherewithal to do that, but the facility is really going to be available to the entire community,” Campbell said. “It’s really going to touch some kids and give them many more options than they have now.”

A Facebook petition demonstrated a “broad base of support” for the idea, collecting about 1,300 signatures from residents, Campbell said.

At an Evanston City Council meeting on Sept. 19, resident Marjorie Fujara urged aldermen to vote in favor of the proposal, saying it would alleviate the problem of childhood obesity by “giving children a safe place to play and be active.”

“We really need to take this problem on in our state,” said Fujara, a pediatrician who became more concerned about the issue after treating a patient with obesity.

Aside from health benefits, Campbell said the sports center will boost sales for nearby Evanston businesses, rather than those in neighboring cities where kids sometimes travel to play.

“People will no longer be spending their dollars in Northbrook or Glenview,” he said.

While weighing the proposal, the council also considered two additional ideas – using the area to store road salt or opening the area to retail development.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz recommended aldermen open the space for commercial use, an option that would generate between $80,000 and $120,000 in property tax revenue, according to a city staff report.

“From time to time, it is my job to raise issues with the council,” Bobkiewicz said. “There’s a thriving retail complex across the street. It’s just about the right size. There probably would be some good retail opportunities there.”

Bobkiewicz’s advised route would have forced the relocation of the animal shelter adjacent to the recycling center, a move he believed might prove beneficial.

“The opportunity to perhaps move that facility to a better location ­- as far as space is concerned – was also something very attractive,” he added.

All three plans represent areas the city could improve in, Bobkiewicz said.

“In Evanston, we have to balance community needs,” he said. “The property on Oakton is a real classic case of that.”

Ultimately, the sports complex will provide a “positive space” and enrich the community, Campbell said.

“It allows kids who are interested in certain sports to hone their skills in the off-season and to work as teams and be able to compete more effectively against surrounding communities who have these types of facilities,” he said.

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