Friends of Robert Crown advances funds to ease COVID-19 budget stress

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Photo courtesy city of Evanston

The new Robert Crown Community Center. Friends of Robert Crown will advance $637,500 towards the new community engagement center.

Sneha Dey, City Editor

Friends of the Robert Crown Center will transfer $637,500 to the city to assist with debt payments for the new Robert Crown Community Center amid the pandemic.

The funds will cover the costs of the 2020 fiscal year debt service. To date, Friends of Robert Crown has contributed $6.6 million to the city, a news release said.

Friends of Robert Crown is prepared to make additional transfers in the fall to ease the budget stress the city faces, according to the news release. At an April City Council meeting, the city predicted up to a $20 million loss in revenue.

“Because of the generosity of our more than 1,300 donors who care deeply about the present and future of Evanston, Friends of the Robert Crown Center is happy to advance this payment,” Daniel Stein, the president of the Friends of Robert Crown, said.

When the center first opened in February, the ice rinks would be crowded at 5:45 am in the morning, Pete Giangreco, the secretary of Friends of Robert Crown, said. Facilities were forced to close soon after, but the center is in use amid the pandemic.

The center serves “grab ‘n go meals” to Evanston/Skokie School District 65 students eligible for free and reduced lunch. About 4,000 meals are distributed each week, the news release said. The center also functions as the city’s command center, as the one of the few buildings city staff can maintain social distancing.

A history of fiscal controversies has followed the new community engagement center. Even after construction started, residents continued to protest the $53.2 million price tag.

When plans for the community engagement center first started to develop, nonprofit citizen group Friends of Robert Crown formed to raise money. The group has pledged to contribute $15 million to the center.

To date, the group has raised $12.5 million and has obtained $1 million through state capital funding. Friends of Robert Crown is now just $1.5 million shy of its goal, Giangreco said.

Giangreco maintains confidence the group will reach its $15 million goal. Even amid the pandemic, residents have continued to meet pledges made through letters of intent.
“We haven’t seen a drop off in our pledges…that was something we worried about,” Giangreco said. “We’re trying to move the money in a way that gives the city as much budget flexibility as we can.”

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