Aldermen discuss funding options for new Robert Crown Community Center


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Mayor Steve Hagerty attends a council meeting. At Monday’s meeting, aldermen discussed funding options for the new Robert Crown Community Center.

Keerti Gopal, Reporter

Aldermen discussed moving forward with the Robert Crown Community Center project at Monday’s City Council meeting, reviewing plans for the project while continuing discussion on alternative funding options.

The funding options presented by the city would leave a $1.5 million deficit, which staff said could be filled with a property tax levy. Next week, a construction manager will be presented to the council for approval.

“How do we fill that deficit?” Mayor Steve Hagerty said. “Those are the decisions that we’ll have to make but … (it seems) this Council is committed to moving forward with bringing a new Crown Center to Evanston.”

Hagerty outlined several possible solutions, including increasing property taxes, selling assets and reducing expenditures elsewhere in the city budget. The staff’s current plan included an increase in property tax, but city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said there will be continued discussions on alternate methods to obtain the required funds for the project.

Aldermen agreed that the renovation of the center is important for the Evanston community, and Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said it should be a top priority.

“I find that Robert Crown is basically unusable now,” Fiske said. “It has been an embarrassment for several years. … I can’t imagine putting this off, (and) I think if we put it off we are going to basically undermine the entire project.”

The current Robert Crown Community Center provides sports and recreation programs as well as child care and access to free WiFi. The proposal for the new center includes three turf fields and a library, and Friends of the Robert Crown Center representative Pete Giangreco said the goal of the center is to bring the Evanston community together and increase equity.

“Having all of these educational and recreational resources in one place is really a paradigm-shifting opportunity,” Giangreco said. “The new Robert Crown as the city has envisioned is quite simply what our community needs and what our community is demanding.”

As of Friday, FRCC has raised $11.1 million, mostly in five- to seven-year pledges payable through 2023, according to city documents. The project cost estimate — including the $1.4 million spent in the past two years on fundraising and architectural and engineering services — is $48.5 million, an increase from the September estimate that fell between $40 million and $46 million. This increase is based on the completion of final design documents by architects and the work costs associated with newly discovered subsoil problems at the site.

The funding plan presented Monday accounted for most of the program costs, but found the aforementioned $1.5 million deficit. Staff proposed to cover the gap with a property tax increase of $25 per $100,000 of property value on the 2018 tax levy bill and an increase of $16 on the 2019 bill.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said she was concerned about the prospect of the levy, saying it put vulnerable residents in a difficult position.

“I don’t agree … that the only way to pay for this is to extract money out of the taxpayers sitting at home trying to figure out how to pay their bills,” Rainey said. “It’s really easy for you (as aldermen) to write checks for your tax bill, but it’s not easy for everybody else.”

Despite disagreements on the logistics of filling the $1.5 million deficit, aldermen decided in favor of allowing the project to progress.

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