Evanston aldermen Monday voted to authorize city staff to requests proposals from developers to build and operate a replacement for the aging Robert Crown Recreation Center.
The plan calls for a building with 2.5 full-size ice rinks, compared to the 1.5 in the existing center, along with a gymnasium and other recreation facilities.
The city hopes to entirely avoid the cost of building a new center itself, and optimally avoid any operating costs for the ice-rink portion of the facility, in return for giving the developer a 30-year lease to set fees and run it on city-owned park land near the existing building.
The Crown Center was built in 1974 and city officials have believed for more than a decade that it needed to be replaced, because of structural issues and its limited capacity.
Some aldermen, including Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, expressed doubts about whether any of the three developers pre-qualified to submit proposals will be able to do the project without subsidy from the city.
Parks Director Doug Gaynor said that with the second full ice sheet the facility should be able to generate a lot more revenue without a lot more expense for the operator.
He said the ice-rink portion of the existing center runs on a nearly break-even basis.
The other recreation programs at Crown don't come close to covering their costs.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said it's his understanding that the city would rent the other recreation space in the building back from the developer and run those programs itself.
A plan to include 5,000 square feet of branch library space in the building came in for criticism from some aldermen, who questioned whether the now more-independent library board had the resources or interest in operating the space.
But Alderman Don wilson, whose 4th Ward includes the Crown Center site, said that while for years it's been his intention to have a library in the building, it would just be just "vanilla box space" that could easily be used for something else.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, suggested adding indoor sports off-season training facilities for baseball, soccer and lacrosse to the project — as an alternative to a proposal from advocates for those sports to use the city's former recycling center for that purpose.
Wilson said that would significantly increase the cost of the structure and that he was concerned that it would eat up too much open space in the park.
But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the request for proposals includes an option for the developers to propose additional facilities that could meet the baseball, soccer and lacrosse needs.
Rainey said the advocates of the recycling center project claim it would be very profitable — so it should be profitable for the developer of the Crown site.
She argued the city can't afford to give away the recycling center to the non-profit group that wants to take it over.
Crown Center RFP proposal