Citizens discuss affordability, transparency in Robert Crown construction


Daily file photo by Julia Esparza

The Robert Crown Center, located at 1701 Main St. Residents are demanding more transparency in financing of the Robert Crown Center.

Julia Esparza, City Editor

A group of residents gathered Sunday afternoon to discuss their concerns with the financing and lack of city transparency surrounding construction of the Robert Crown Community Center.

Evanstonians for a Financially Responsible Robert Crown Plan hosted the meeting in the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center ahead of a Monday city meeting where city manager Wally Bobkiewicz will give an update on financing for the project. Residents organized questions and demands that they wish to bring up during the meeting.

Attendees also discussed sources of funding for the center’s construction. Residents are largely concerned with the fact that when the project was proposed in August 2016, they were told it wouldn’t result in taxpayer burden. However, that changed as costs on the projects continued to rise.

In order to continue construction, the city has authorized the issue of one or more general obligation bonds that will not exceed $18 million. This type of bond is issued under the assumption that the municipality will be able to repay its debt through taxation or project revenue.

“I am mostly concerned with how it is going to effectively commit us financially as a city to this debt service so that we do not have funds for human services… or affordable housing projects, victim services, youth services,” said Meg Welch, a resident of the 4th Ward, where the center is located.

Friends of Robert Crown, a volunteer-led nonprofit organization, was formed in 2016 and aims to raise $15 million to contribute to the project. The cost of the center is around $53 million, an increase from the initial $30 million anticipated in August 2016.

Other sources of funding have come in the form of a $500,000 gift from Wintrust Bank for naming rights to a field and conference room, as well as a $250,000 contribution from Valli Produce of Evanston for the right to name the center’s lobby. These gifts will be paid out over the course of 8 and 15 years, respectively.

Northwestern University has contributed $1 million to the project, according to the Friends of Robert Crown website. However, group member Clare Kelly said this is not a gift but rather payment for the University’s access to the planned ice rink. She said that price is about market price for the use of a rink, but that it doesn’t work to mitigate the cost of the project.

The city is set to install two NHL-grade ice rinks into the community center. The group proposed ideas for decreasing the cost of the project, which included building a less expensive ice complex. Other proposals include constructing the center in phases – once funds become available or are raised – and installing a natural turf field instead of an artificial one.

“To just unfairly push all this money into this project without taking into consideration the things that the community has shown interest in, is not fair representation of our community,” 5th Ward resident Carolyn Murray said.

The group also plans to demand more transparency from the city and the ability to give more input on financing and stakeholders. Murray said she wants to know the real cost of the project and exactly how it will affect her taxes.

The group plans to bring bring these demands, along with many other questions, to Bobkiewicz and other officials at Monday’s meeting.

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Twitter: @juliaesparza10

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