Evanston aldermen this week appeared to let their enthusiasm for making a group of constituents happy cloud their financial judgment when they voted to move ahead with leasing the former recycling center to non-profit groups that want to turn it into an indoor sports facility.
Given the city's poor track record of accounting for the full cost of deals it enters into with groups hoping to do good for the community, they need to slow down and develop clear standards for such deals so taxpayers won't be left holding the bag.
The city currently:
- Leases space to non-profit arts groups at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, leases that fail to generate sufficient revenue to make capital repairs to the building.
- Leases the Hadley Clarke mansion on the lakefront to the Evanston Arts Center in another deal that fails to generate revenue for needed capital repairs.
- Subleases land for the municipal golf course to a non-profit that has failed to generate enough revenue to pay its water bill.
- The two youth sports groups that want the recycling center have proposed a budget for the operation that appears to fail to recover the full rental value of the property and also does not appear to cover the long-term cost of capital repairs any structure will eventually need.
It's also not at all clear from the limited data provided by the groups whether the revenue assumptions assumed for the project are realistic.
None of these issues are necessarily insurmountable, and perhaps in lease negotiations with city staff they can be appropriately addressed.
But the aldermen need to set clear standards for what they're looking for when they consider leasing out city property. And not sticking taxpayers with the hidden long-term costs of a deal should be one of their highest priorities.