Evanston aldermen didn’t decide exactly what to do about the city’s ice rink Monday night, but they did decide to seek a $2.5 million state grant to help fund a new one.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons presented a report on what to do about the 40-year-old Robert Crown Center — exploring options ranging from a $17 million gut-rehab of the existing building, with its 1.5 sheets of ice, which might be phased in over several years — through a plush brand new 2.5 ice sheet facility with a price tag of more than $43 million.

The report concluded that ideas raised a few years ago of creating a public-private partnership to build a new center were no longer viable. Failures of similar projects and a general tightening of credit rules means that the city would end up being on the hook for any financial shortfall on such a project.

And consultants hired by the city concluded that the market for ice rinks in the Chicago area is saturated — making it unlikely that a larger facility could generate enough revenue to cover its higher costs.

An aerial view of the Robert Crown Center from Google Maps.

Faced with a March 10 deadline to apply for the state grant — from of pool of funds that only becomes available once every several years, and with little evident interest in getting completely out of the ice rink business, aldermen voted to apply for the grant — and make the application assuming a $17 million rehab project — while continuing to work on refining the project’s scope and financing.

Even a $17 million project is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $34 million in principle and interest expenses on 20 year bonds.

And the Crown Center now runs an annual operating deficit of over $500,000 a year.

Combine those two, and over 30-year life cyle of a new or renovated facility, staying in the ice rink business, Lyons said, will cost taxpayers over $60 million.

Don Wilson.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said members of the subcommittee that worked to prepare the report are looking for donations to help reduce the city’s cost and possibly help finance a bigger project.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl suggested that the Crown family, whose $1 million gift to the original building earned them naming rights, might be interested in supporting the new project.

Lyons said the city also needs to look at changing the facility’s business model — raising fees to reduce the size of the operating subsidy.

And Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested also looking at contracting out the management of the facility as a way to reduce costs.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she’s concerned about competition from potential other new facilities in the area, and Lyons conceded he hasn’t looked at what other communities may be planning to build over the next few years.

Related stories

Staff: Spend $17M to renovate Crown

Will ice rink plan come out of deep freeze?

Related document

Staff report on Robert Crown Center

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. One more promise to taxpayers

    If you ask an Evanston resident if they would like to have a new and additional sports centers, funding for the arts [certainly not professional training for those wanting to get into the business], skating rinks, roll-skating centers, billiard hall, opera house, parks, more libraries, theater to bring Broadway to Evanston, science museums, and on and on. They would say of course.

    If you ask them how it will be paid for you would hear “I had not thought about that” or “the [mythical] government [state, Federal—get real] will pay for it”, or “tax payers [not me because I will be dead or have moved]]” meaning ‘my kids, grandkid and great grandchildren.’

    If you ask if they will make a large donation for it—well you don’t want to hear the words they would use—besides laughing at you. Everyone wants everything and for years the Council with the collaboration of the very rich who assume all taxpayers make what they do and those who flunked even high school economics and government.

    The Council long ago blew all the money taxpayers will make for years with gifts to what they think are “winner” businesses, wage/pension promises they should know they could not meet and every cockamamie idea someone came up with.

    Now the piper has to be paid and the “emperor has no clothes.” Residents will be paying for bad decisions for years. Now we will have to cut back and not build or supply many things [some people] would like—like arts for K-12, foreign languages, trips to cultural centers, well kept schools, more teachers, smaller classes, transportation for students, crossing guards.

    I'm sure they will say "it will all work out" but these are the same people who have said that for decades.


  2. No demand for ice

    Mr Lyons explains to council that the lowest priced option will cost taxpayers a minimum of over 60 million dollars all in. Consultants hired by the city tells council that the market for ice rinks in Chicagoland is completely saturated, meaning there is oversupply and no need for more ice rinks.  Nobody has any idea what our neighbor communities are planning with their already much better facilities.  And from what I'm reading the ice rink isn't even the main draw to the R, Crown center anyway.

    So why is Evanston even thinking about spending 60+ million of our money, why is the State wasting 2.5 million of taxpayer money on this?  Typical, wasteful, sloth.

    Skokie, Wilmette, Winnetka/Glencoe all have good solid ice facilities.  Both my daughters figured skated in Skokie, 10 minutes away with a CTA bus line rolling right down Church st.  Why can't we negotiate a program with our neighbors that creates a win-win situation for everybody.  Neighbor communities get increased revenue to support those facilities, Evanston residents get access to those facilities maybe with some sort of City sponsered per user copayment plan to the host communities. 

    Everybody gets to skate who wants to, taxpayers in neighboring communities get supporting facility revenue, Evanston taxpayers get to save 60+ million dollars, the State doesn't have to piss away 2.5 million of taxpayer money on a scheme that obviously hasn't been thought out by anyone.   

    Why can't neighboring community cooperation and regionalism ever be discussed in these situations.  60 million plus for an underutilized facility with no real demand to justify the expense???

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