Evanston residents protest Robert Crown Community Center cost at City Council


Julia Esparza/ Daily senior staffer

Robert Crown Community Center, 1701 Main St. Construction on the complex now totals more than $53 million.

Emma Edmund, Reporter

Evanston residents used public comment time at Monday’s City Council meeting to protest the cost of the new Robert Crown Community Center, voicing concerns about the tax burden on residents and urging aldermen to reconsider some financial decisions.

During the meeting, aldermen discussed and voted to raise the debt ceiling and introduced an ordinance to authorize bonds issuance that would help fund the Robert Crown. The project now totals more than $53 million and includes a library branch and turf field.

Evanston resident Misty Witenberg worried there were not enough community meetings to discuss the issue, and said the public was not given enough space to voice its opinions. She also said the media releases she received did not give her enough notice to be heard in a public setting.

“Let’s not pretend that this project is not for the very wealthiest in Evanston, whose children ice skate, play hockey and attend the private schools that get first access to these facilities,” Witenberg said. “It’s subsidized by our most vulnerable residents through budget and service cuts, and our increases in property taxes and fees.”

9th ward resident Lenny Lamkin, who identified himself as a low-income senior citizen, raised concerns that he would be unable to afford the direct annual tax that would pay the principal of and interest on the bonds that include funding for Robert Crown. The authorization for the levy and collection of the tax would be provided through the bonds issuance ordinance the Council is set to consider April 22.

“We need a new Robert Crown Center,” Lamkin said. “It was out-of-date when my kids, who are now in their 30s, were skating there and playing there. But we don’t need a $53 million structure.”

Some residents affiliated with the North Cook/Lake County Poor People’s Campaign also came to protest the cost of Robert Crown. 3rd ward resident Meg Welch said the campaign is a revival of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign for equality.

The campaign sent out an action alert urging members of the campaign to come out to the April 8 and April 15 City Council meetings to join the protest. The alert argued that the roots of systemic racism, poverty and inequality issues stem from decisions made by public officials.

“There is no shame in taking a step back,” Welch said at the meeting. “There’s no shame in just sitting and looking at what we can do to reduce the cost or at least have a conversation about this.”

At the end of the City Council meeting, Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said while he is a big proponent of freedom of speech, he asked residents to reflect on how they advocate. He said there exists a significant difference between the human rights Martin Luther King Jr. fought for and the capital project residents are protesting, and he struggles with a comparison of the two.

“When we reduce our conversations to those issues that have deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep pain and suffering as part of our American history to what we’re going through now, it just doesn’t balance out on my scale,” Braithwaite said.

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Community members concerned about city payment for Robert Crown project
Residents concerned over increased cost of Robert Crown Community Center, even after construction has begun