City council debates possible additions to Robert Crown Center

Kimberly Railey

The Evanston City Council on Monday night unanimously agreed to seek competitive detailed proposals from three developers interested in building and operating a new ice rink and community center at Crown Park.

That decision did not so much spark debate as did considerations of building and site elements for the Robert Crown Center, 1701 Main St.

One point of contention surrounded the inclusion of indoor facilities for baseball, soccer and lacrosse at the site, an idea already proposed for the city’s former recycling center, 2222 Oakton St.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said the addition of these facilities would be highly profitable.

“When I was reading this proposal, it was foremost in my mind that this actually is the addition to the Robert Crown reconstruction and rebuilding that will make this a lucrative prospect for any developer who is involved,” Rainey said.

Ald. Don Wilson (4th) said he did not weigh that possibility but felt it would harm the project’s feasibility. The extra expense incurred from adding space in the building would significantly hike its overall cost, he said.

He added the number of parking spaces would also need to be increased, a move that would fill even more of the park that surrounds the center.

Rainey countered many people wouldn’t stay for sports practices and that their seasonal nature would not attract constant visitors, calling the situation a “win-win.”

“This is the time to think big,” Rainey said. “If you’re going to be doing this, we cannot as a city to give away a piece of our property.”

Also debated was the proposal to build a 5,000-square-foot library within the center.

Wilson said he has specifically discussed the option with library board over the years, addressing Ald. Dolores Holmes’ (5th) concerns that its members may not even be interested in creating an additional branch.

“It’s been my vision and my intention to have library space in that building,” he said.

City Manager Wally Bobkieciwz said his understanding is the public library would pay rent for the library space and the city would rent the recreation space, aside from the ice rinks.

Submissions for the developers’ proposals are due Feb. 2, 2012.

At Monday night’s meeting, Evanston aldermen also chose to postpone taking action on authorizing Bobkiewicz to apply for a Tiger III discretionary grant. The grant’s money would be used to finance the reconstruction of parts of Church Street and Dodge Avenue.

The project would also include the addition of bicycle accommodations on Church Street from Lawler Avenue in Skokie to Chicago Avenue in Evanston. That decision was made after Evanston was denied Tiger III funding last year, said Suzette Robinson, director of the city’s public works department.

Its total cost is estimated at $16.3 million, of which about $11 million would be covered by the grant.

Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) said although she supported the project, the percentage of the city debt compared to its revenue is a “serious concern.”

“We’re talking again of adding more debt,” Burrus said. “What are we doing when we’re talking about these project? What is the return on the investment and can we afford to do it?”

Responding to Burrus’ concerns over the project being first introduced Monday, Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said the grant simply added a new element to the West Evanston Plan of 2007.

The deadline for the Tiger III grant application is Oct. 31.

[email protected]