The Arrington Lagoon and fieldhouse on the lakefront.

Audrey Thompson has some food for thought … about the lack of food at city recreation facilities.

Evanston’s Parks and Recreation director told the Economic Development Committee on Wednesday night that while at the Robert Crown Center recently, ” I couldn’t even buy a hot dog and a bag of nachos.”

Parks & Recreation Director Audrey Thompson at Economic Development Committtee meeting Wednesday night.

That’s because the concession stands are not open.

But that may soon change.

Thompson and the committee (made up of both city council members and other citizens) enthusiastically talked about making Rec facilities more fun … and more lucrative for the city, by adding food service, which some centers are already equipped to have.

Concessions at Crown “could be open seven days a week,” Thompson said.

The long-term idea is for the city to hire someone to implement and supervise food service expansion.

While that may cost $100,000 a year in salary and benefits, Thompson said, “This position would pay for itself” over time due to increased revenue from customers at the facilities.

Robert Crown, the Levy Center, and Fleetwood-Jourdain all have licensed kitchens which are currently unused.

While it would take time to get some of those kitchens ready, Thompson said some short-term projects could start this fall without a new employee… such as food carts at Arrington Lagoon, outdoor wine tastings at the same site, and perhaps even hot chocolate and ‘smores during wintertime lagoon skating.

“Our goal,” Thompson explained, “is to make our facilities year-round facilities.”

The concession stands at Robert Crown could re-open this fall, Thompson said, “for special events and hockey games.”

Hockey players at Robert Crown Center.

Longer-term, assuming City Council says yes, there would be some sort of food service at all city Rec facilities, not just the three with kitchens.

Hiring the staffer is one of the long-term options. Also on the long-term wish list, adding online food and drink ordering at Crown, with the order brought to your seats at a hockey game or other spectator event.

And, on the long-term agenda as well is a restaurant in the Arrington Lagoon building.

Lisa Dzekian, one of the citizen members on the development panel, was excited by the possibilities.

She’s the one who said Evanston has to take some risks.

“We need to be a little bolder than we have in years past,” she added.

Thompson will bring the short-term options to City Council next month. Hiring an employee to work on longer term ideas will take more time, and council will need to find the money.

For now, Thompson said, the effort should be on “low-hanging fruit,” the easier to accomplish things like food carts and wine tastings.

Long-term, who knows … maybe some low-hanging fruit could be made into a fruit salad, and brought to your seat at a hockey game.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Actually I think it’s a good idea. Particularly along the Evanston Lakefront. My suggestion is that they consider having conversion stands that a food vendor could bid in operation with paying the Parks and Recreation a fee. Both the fees and taxes from the sales revenue could go directly into funds for the Evanston Parks and Recreation.

  2. I think that is a great idea! Take risks and be bold. I love the thought of utilizing the lakefront for wine, food trucks, food, etc. What a great addition this would be for our community.

  3. Has Thompson cleared this idea with Mr. Devon Reid? Would not the Robert Crown or Levy Center be better used as a soup kitchen for the homeless?

  4. A very good idea but from what I read it seems the city is going to run these enterprises themselves: “The long-term idea is for the city to hire someone to implement and supervise food service expansion.” Not such a great idea to go that route. Franchise the locations to private entities. Make the money from space rental (though we would have to keep Reid from lowering rents and avoiding eviction should the tenant not pay).

    1. I agree. Running a business venture isn’t a core competency. They should contract out for it.

    2. I also agree that offering food service is a good idea but that the city should stick to its core competencies and outsource to established and proven food providers with a good reputation and maybe just have an existing city employee oversee the contracting to these outside providers (no new six figure job).

  5. Agreed that the City has been timid – no, more accurately, antipathetic to business development and private enterprise in the last few years. “If it ain’t subsidized, we don’t want it!”
    Leased concession stands/pop-up restaurants and existing food trucks is the way to go.

  6. Here we go again. The city, perpetually desperate for funds, thinks the solution to its nonstop overspending, is to monetize the lakefront, not taking into consideration the negative it would have on our most precious natural resource.

    As a reminder, the lakefront is an environmental treasure, yet the new director of Parks & Rec sounds determined to turn it into a waterside McDonald’s, ignoring how her plans will turn a beautiful greenspace into a trashy, smelly strip mall with boozed-up patrons.

    And, as is always the case with these proposals, the city never bothers to study how much revenue this might raise versus the costs in terms of staffing, maintenance, waste collection, alcohol enforcement and other necessary expenses. Let’s not forget, this city can barely plow the streets when it snows, so I don’t know why they think they can run anything as complicated as a food-service enterprise.

    Evanston residents are fighting hard right now to stop NU from destroying a neighborhood with noise and traffic from a new stadium. I urge everyone to fight just as hard to stop them from turning our beautiful lakefront into a suburban mall’s food court.

    1. You must be one of the people that lives right on the lakefront and thinks it’s your personal property. The lakefront belongs to every resident. If this plan brings in revenue then it’s a no brainer, considering NU keeps gobbling up properties taking their tax money off the books.

  7. It may be a good time to start revisiting having a marina in Evanston. One by South Beach and the other by Lighthouse Beach. Turn the mansion into a Maritime museum with a cafe/restaurant. Summer youth can work in the marina. Turn the recycle center into storage for the boats in the winter.

    It’s not hard to come up with ways this City can flourish. Unfortunately we only listen to 1% instead of the 99.

  8. A real restaurant it’s going to cost quite a lot more than $100,000 for one employee w/ salary and benefits.

    And wine tastings are basically way to give out free wine samples. How much revenue are you going to net from that?

    I agree with revisiting food trucks whereby the food truck owners, take on the risk and make the profit. Why not encourage some private enterprise for a change?

    I can see re-opening concession stands that sell ice cream bars, soda, water and chips. Maybe hotdogs, too, but much more than that is a much bigger enterprise with a much bigger investment, and it seems to me that the City of Evanston should be sticking to basics. Get those right first.

    Taking orders online and delivering food to people in stadium stands is ridiculous. Plus you will need additional maintenance people to clean the stands or you’ll have a rodent problem as well.

    It seems to me that these people coming up with these “great” ideas are not people who have run their own businesses previously.

    Please stick to succeeding at running a smooth government well and efficiently. That would be the first step before going off on ridiculous tangents.

    I don’t think it’s the government’s job to “be bold and take risks” until they get their priorities straight and solve the existing problems; homeless encampments is just the latest amoing many. They are not independent business people taking risks with their own money; this is the city’s (and citizen’s) money you’re talking about. They need to be taking proper care of our city & its citizens.

    What’s next?

    I do feel like I’m reading “The Onion” here, what with the superintendent of schools double-dipping, then resigning and taking his underlings with him, etc.

    What next???

  9. I had heard of a “private” attempt to open the Arrington space awhile backs. The prospective entrepreneur was discouraged by city “red tape”. Not the same situation, but the City also discouraged a viable use of the Harley Clarke house, which has since cost the public thousands of dollars.
    YES, the City needs to be “bold” and “take risks”!

  10. When it comes to Food Service, take a course from NU: they franchise food services of various companies appropriate to different buildings….we have many great food service companies in the larger metropolitan area. NU understands the high expense of assuming costs of ongoing personnel hiring, salaries of staff to execute, manage, and hourly staff, plus maintenance staff. Let’s Franchise with benefits. Take a lesson from the City who recently renewed contract with Mark Vending – same as the ‘non-profit’ YMCA who also contracts with Mark V company that has installed new healthy food and drink items in Y vendateria. And please – do not hire another expensive consultant to schedule public meetings for opinions to figure this out.

  11. The City has already tried this at the Gibbs-Morrison community center and both of the ventures failed.

    That said, I would welcome a bar at Robert Crown so you can have a beer while you watch a hockey game.

  12. Evanston absolutely needs to activate our lakefront with options for dining. Begin with food trucks and beverage service and build to leased venues for a few restaurants. This will generate revenue, attract customers to our downtown, and make the lake into a real destination.

  13. The city has not demonstrated its competence to run a food enterprise and even have difficulties in managing the construction of public works such as Fountain Square. I would strongly encourage leasing these facilities to professionals.

  14. Yes, particularly along the lakefront if it is executed with good design and quality offerings. city run? I believe franchised or contracted private enterprise approved by the city is better. Food truck locations in parking lots. How about finer dining at some lakefront locations?

  15. How about spending some money on cleaning up the lakefront???? Where exactly is the police detail to the lakefront. How about some signs that say “ Put Litter in It’s Place “ To not get the do gooders of E Town lathered, let’s get boot’s on ground and remind folks not to dump their hot coals at the base of the trees. Oh, and where are those youths that are being paid to pick up the trash? You know the ones that are not supervised and essentially walk around talking on their phones while walking pass the trash they are being PAID to pick up. There is a saying in the food business “ sell it or smell it “ Speaking specifically about the lakefront, a place to get a bottle of water or light packaged snack is about as far as we need to go. Spare us another economic panel conducting yet another study. ENOUGH!

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