Evanston aldermen voted 6-2 Monday to move forward with a proposal to lease the city’s former recycling center to non-profit groups that would turn it into an indoor youth sports facility.

The City Council rejected a recommendation from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to instead sell the Oakton Street property for commercial use to reduce the city’s debt and generate new property tax revenue.

And it turned down an idea favored by the city’s Public Works Department to use the building to store road salt.

Community and Economic Development Director Steve Griffin said the sports groups behind the winning proposal — the Evanston Baseball and Softball Association and the Evanston American Youth Soccer Association — say they’ll be able to renovate operate the facility at no cost to the city.

But their proposal was omitted from the information packet for the meeting. 

A summary prepared by city staff noted that the groups offered to pay $4,000 a month to help defray the city’s cost for alternative storage space for equipment now stored at the recycling center.

But that works out to a “rent” for the space of $3.56 per square foot per year — substantially below the rental cost for equivalent space in the city.

Top: A diagram from a staff report showing added parking proposed if the recycling center is converted to a sports facility and the adjacent animal shelter is expanded. Above: An image of the recycling center from Google Street View.

The staff memo also noted that the groups’ plan did not cover the cost of expand parking for the new use, which it estimated would cost about $200,000.

But the advocates claimed to have gotten 1,200 supporters to sign an online petition backing the proposal, which may have helped persuade some aldermen to go for it.

That didn’t include Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the recycling center site. She said the city is faced with tremendous financial burdens and that she opposed “virtually giving away a public building” to a non-profit that “will not be returning this property to the tax rolls.”

“If a for-profit sports facility operator came along who wanted to buy the property and put it on the tax rolls,” Rainey said, “Then we could talk  business.”

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, called the sports proposal “an excellent idea” and said there’s already “a lot of empty space for commercial uses in the city.”

Wilson’s motion directing the city staff to negotiate a lease of the center with the sports groups and to prepare a zoning amendment to permit the new use was approved with only Rainey and Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, voting no.

Holmes said she thought the vote was premature without first hearing more about the salt storage facility plan. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, was absent from the meeting.

Later in the evening the aldermen heard an update on the city’s troubled lease arrangement with another non-profit, the group that runs the municipal golf course and has been unable to make payments on its water bill to the city.

Bobkiewicz said the group appears to be making sufficient progress in resolving its financial problems that he does not recommend trying to terminate the lease at this time.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Is it really all about money, Ald. Rainey?

    Question for Ann Rainey: The only determining factor is whether or not this facility can be returned to the tax rolls? Do you have something against providing an indoor space for Evanston youth to engage in safe, healthy activities? I should think the City Council would welcome a plan that gives kids a constructive outlet for their energy.


    I agree. We face real financial realities and important resources for our youth are likely to be cut in the process. There a lots of commercial opportunities and Oakton is already enough of a strip mall. The indoor sports facility is win-win–good for the community and no increased tax burden. Let's look at ways to cut spending at the same time we are looking for more revenue.

  3. Question for Ann Rainey

    It's ironic that Ald. Rainey's steadfast viewpoint of increased tax revenues was not important when she was supporting the purchase of properties on Howard street to lease to an arts organization. 

    To quote Evanston Now,  "Richard Engling, the theater's artistic director, who lives at 135 Asbury Ave. in Evanston, says his alderman, Ann Rainey, approached him about the possibility of moving the theater group to the Howard Street space."  The City of Evanston eventually purchase the property.  It would be good to understand why Ald. Rainey supports spending City dollars in this period of fiscal crisis to accommodate a single arts organization that is not currently located in Evanston. 

    The indoor sports facility has dramatic broad based use and support in the Community and the ability to drive economic development and leverage James Park – a crown jewel of Evanston. 

  4. $200,000 to fix the parking lot

    or $200,000 would pay for more than 500 youth memberships at the McGaw YMCA. just a thought many thanks manon kavesky

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