Community members concerned about city payment for Robert Crown project


Clare Proctor/Daily Senior Staffer

Mayor Steve Hagerty speaks at a town hall meeting Monday. Community members raised concern about how the city plans to finance the Robert Crown Community Center project.

Clare Proctor, Assistant City Editor

Evanston community members raised concern over how the city plans to finance the Robert Crown Community Center at Mayor Steve Hagerty’s town hall meeting Wednesday.

The city broke ground last July on the project — which will cost more than $53 million, plus interest. Hagerty said the Friends of the Robert Crown Center have pledged $12 million for the building’s construction, and the city plans to finance the rest of the project through bonds, a concern for many community members.

Evanston resident Tina Paden said in an interview that many community members supported the Robert Crown construction when it was previously projected to cost $30 million. As the project developed and is now set to cost over $53 million, Paden said many former-supporters are “very angry.”

“I know that it will increase our taxes,” Paden said. “They say it’s not, but they’re not going to make their budget.”

Paden said she anticipates that the city will continue to run a deficit, raising taxes to address the fiscal problem.

Although she doesn’t oppose the Robert Crown project, Evanston resident Misty Witenberg said she is concerned about its cost. She asked Hagerty and city manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who was also in attendance at the mayor’s town hall, if revenue from the center could finance the project retroactively.

“What happens over time is, we’ll see how much money we generate,” Bobkiewicz said.

Bobkiewicz said there is “no scenario” where the project could be funded solely by the center’s revenue. He said it would not cover both operations of the facility and the debt accrued from its construction.

Other residents said the city should not have proceeded with the Robert Crown development before securing funding pledged by the Friends of the Robert Crown Center. Evanston resident Clare Kelly said there should have been a memorandum of understanding between the city and partners for the project before construction began.

Hagerty said an agreement is in process.

Evanston residents also discussed what the city plans to do with the Harley Clarke Mansion, located at 2603 Sheridan Rd. The mansion is currently not in use, and roughly 80 percent of community members voted in favor of preserving the building on a referendum on the November ballot.

Former proposals suggested using the mansion as a boutique, literary center or bed and breakfast, among other things, Hagerty said.

“We’ve sort of run the gamut with ideas for Harley Clarke,” Hagerty said. “Now we’re back to, ‘Where do we go from here?’”

Hagerty said the city has “absolutely no appetite” to spend taxpayer dollars on restoring or renovating the mansion. The city should pursue private or non-profit investments to finance the building, he said.

He added that the problem of what to do with the Harley Clarke Mansion is not a shortage of ideas, but rather a lack of money. City Council will discuss what to do with the building at its meeting on Monday, Hagerty said.

The town hall format allowed community members to speak more extensively on issues, Paden said, in comparison to the short time allotted for public comment at City Council.

“I’m glad that he had the meeting,” she said. “(There) should be more meetings where people could come out and say something… more than 45 seconds.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ceproctor23

Related Stories:
 High costs, ‘privatized interests’ of Northwestern in Robert Crown Center push Evanston residents to voice concerns
— Residents discuss minority access in Harley Clarke repurposing