Despite tight finances, the City Council has decided to spend nearly $393,000 to rebuild Evanston’s lakefront boat storage facility.

The city originally planned to spend $100,000 to repair the non-motorized boat storage facility on the beach at Dempster Street, but consultants said it would cost more to repair it than to demolish it and build a new one — about $300,000 more.

“We will make that money back within six years,” Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said.

She and other supporters said the larger price is acceptable because the storage facility generates about $75,000 a year in revenue. Continued disrepair will drive away customers, Evanston parks chief Doug Gaynor said.

But six years was too long a payback time for Aldermen Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who opposed the project, citing the projected $3 million shortfall in city revenues.

“We don’t have an indefinite source of money,” Jean-Baptiste said. “You don’t take limited funds and just spend it on something because it’s a good investment when you are running out of money.”

He expressed skepticism regarding the need to completely replace the facility, calling it an “all-or-nothing” proposition, and moved to postpone voting until the city manager examined the process by which city staff reached and presented that conclusion.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, moved to override the postponement and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz offered Jean-Baptiste no help — instead, he said he had already looked at the issue, apologized on behalf of the staff and recommending that the council go ahead and approve the spending.

Fiske also pressed for postponing the vote and proposed that the city first consult the finance director to see, though savings from other capital investment projects will completely cover the additional cost of this one, if this is the best way to spend capital improvement funds.

“I urge you to exercise fiscal responsibility,” she said to the other aldermen.

But supporters maintained they were being fiscally responsible.

“I’m sort of insulted…for you to say that we are being irresponsible by voting for it,” Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said. “We are taking an asset which is wonderful for the city of Evanston, which is our lakefront, and we are using it in a responsible manner.”

Wynne argued the new storage facility’s greater capacity would mean even more revenue for the city. With 126 additional rental units, and a minimum price of $200 on each, the city would make at least $33,200 on top of the $75,000 if the facility achieves full capacity, she said.

But Jean-Baptiste and Fiske remained unconvinced and ultimately voted against it. They did did not find the extra support needed to carry out postponement on the decision.

“We planned to spend $100,000 to repair it,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Now suddenly there’s all kinds of justifications to spend four times that amount.”


A run-down storage locker at the facility. “The only thing our lockers are good for is fox dens,” Ald. Wynne said.

Join the Conversation

5 Comments

  1. Enquiring minds want to row
    “The city originally planned to spend $100,000 to repair the non-motorized boat storage facility on the beach at Dempster Street, but consultants said it would cost more to repair it than to demolish it and build a new one — about $300,000 more.
    “We will make that money back within six years,” Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said.”

    Melissa Wynne is finally making sense. Sometimes it is more expensive to maintain and repair an old facility than it is to build a new one – whether it is a boat storage facility or a civic center. In this case, since the City will recoup its investment in a short time period, the NPV of the project is positive. Let it be done.

    While Jean-Baptiste has often been reasonable, I find his arguments here to be ridiculous:
    “You don’t take limited funds and just spend it on something because it’s a good investment when you are running out of money.”

    If something is a good investment, then of course we should spend money on it, regardless of how bad the current financial situation is.

    I am not surprised, of course, by Judy Fiske. She just opposes all progress. Even Wynne and Burrus aren’t with her on this one.

    I am wondering why we haven’t heard any opposition from the lakefront NIMBYs. “Wynne argued the new storage facility’s greater capacity would mean even more revenue for the city.”…doesn’t that mean more people on the lakefront, and more traffic? I would expect the Southeast Evanston Association to have something to say about this.
    .

    1. Mr. Who Knows: This project
      Mr. Who Knows: This project is breaking even in 6 years with a discount rate of zero (0.00%), assuming an inflation rate of 0 to boot. The discount rate for the funding is certainly above 0. What is the opportunity cost of those funds when the city is broke and the country in a recession? I think it would be safe to assume that there are better alternative uses for those funds than housing boats. What is the useful life of the new facility, what are the maintenance costs, etc? How can you say the NPV is positive lacking that information?

  2. I agree with Jean Baptiste.
    I agree with Jean Baptiste. Funds are limited. Should a homeowner near foreclosure be investing in the stock market now because it’s at all time low and considered a “good investment?” I’m sure the rationale of “good investments” is a term that is liberally used in goverment – Evanston and elsewhere.

  3. “I’m sort of insulted…for
    “I’m sort of insulted…for you to say that we are being irresponsible by voting for it,” Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said.

    Yes, Ms. Burrus. You are indeed irresponsible, but also rather stupid since it seems you do not realize the irresponsibility. How will this be funded? The city budget is in deep deficit.

  4. Marina
    Well… I often wonder what the economic impact to Evanston in terms of revenue from a marina (an idea that was shot down) could have been, to say fund the renovation of the boat storage area?

    Boat slips are a highly prized commodity simply because there are few close by and the demand for slips exceeds the supply for sailors and boaters.

    I just think a great opportunity for the City was missed, or lets say dismissed at the hands of stark opposition to a facility that could have had real economic impact to the City, the budget shortfalls and ancillary projects such as the boat storage renovation.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *