New Crown Center project could be on thin ice


Evanston city staff will have some hard negotiating ahead if aldermen tonight agree to continue talks with two proposed private developers for a new Robert Crown ice rink and recreation center.

The proposals, which a city committee concluded were the best two of three received from would-be developers, anticipate that the city would be on the hook for shortfalls in operating revenue from the center and that the city would issue revenue bonds to finance the project.

The city's chief financial officer, Marty Lyons, says the ciy's goal would be to find a way to finance the project without requiring a city guarantee.

Lyons, in a memo to aldermen, says the guarantee would require the city to list the debt on its own financial statements and that could "negatively impact the availabiliy of funds for oher basic infrastructure projects."

Top: A rendering of the $55 million design proposed by McCaffrey. Above: A rendering of the $20 million Community Partnership plan.

If the debt was supported by an operation like the water fund — which has a very stable and reliable source of revenut — the added debt might not be a problem, Lyons added.

But providing a guarantee for an operation like an ice rink — where users can opt out of paying for the service or choose to use other faclities — "increases the potential for the guarantee to actually be called upon."

Another concern is the wide range in proposed costs for the project —  from just over $20 million proposed by Crown Park Community Partnership to $55 million proposed by McCaffrey Evanston Recreation LLC.

Lyons says that indicates "major variations in the scope and actual quality of construction proposed."

He said city staff would work to have the developers revise their proposals toward the midpoint of the cost range while providing a similar level of project scope and quality.

Aldermen had been scheduled to act on the Crown Center plan at a meeting Sept. 24, but delayed a discussion of the issue when that meeting ran longer than expected.

The aging current recreation center is considered by advocates to be insufficient to meet the demand for ice rink space in Evanston.

Update 10/9/12: The City Council Monday night postponed discussion of the Robert Crown Center proposal until a future meeting because of the time consumed by its other agenda items.

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