Seven months after Evanston aldermen approved a $53 million plan to build a new Robert Crown Center and six months after construction started, a handful of angry residents tried to derail the project Wednesday night.

Mike Vasilko, an organizer of the effort, argued that the city should not go through with a scheduled second bond sale for the project this spring and not finish parts of the building.

Mike Vasilko.

Vasilko, an architect, has become a frequent critic of city projects since he lost a bid to be the architect for the Howard Street theater project in 2017.

Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes the Crown Center, said the city had held dozens of public meetings over the past several years to discuss the project and that after those meetings the elected representatives of the people — the aldermen — had voted to approve the plans.

Don Wilson.

Holding up a map of the city on which he’d drawn a line from northwest to southeast, Wilson said the area to the south and west of that line has only two recreation centers, including Crown, while the area to the north and east has seven recreation or community centers and three libraries.

“This half of the city deserves to have appropriate services,” Wilson said.

Many Crown supporters in the audience applauded comments favoring the project, but others in the crowd demanded that the city extract more money from institutions like Northwestern University and Beacon Academy that have pledged funds in return for naming rights to various elements within the new structure.

Like other users, those groups will also be paying usage fees for times they use the new center’s facilities — which will include two ice rinks, a basketball gym and three outdoor artificial-turf fields as well as a new library branch

Private fundraising by the non-profit Friends of Robert Crown group has so far totalled nearly $11.9 million in cash and pledges toward a goal of $15 million, with nearly $5.5 million of the funds in hand.

City officials plan to use the first $5 million of the donated funds to cover construction costs and the remaining $10 million to reduce debt service payments on money the city will borrow to construct the building.

Total borrowing for Crown is expected to total just under $40.9 million, with an additional $29.6 million in interest payments over the 25-year term of the bonds.

The city’s total outstanding bond debt at the end of 2017 was $185 million. By the end of 2020 the total city bond debt including the Crown project is expected to total $269 million.

The new building is expected to be completed by late this year with the new turf fields to be completed in 2020 after the existing Crown Center is demolished.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. Yes to Robert Crown !

    Thank you to City of Evanston Administration, elected officials and community members for providing the leadership to bring a “New and improved” Robert Crown from concept to reality.

    The plans exhibited and discussed last night explain how this bold and expanded facility will be an inclusive “Crown Jewel” for the entire Evanston community.

    Thank you to everyone for paying heed to Daniel Burnham who once said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans…”

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