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.

Related story

Aldermen to vote on rec center project

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Put the ice on ice

    Evanston Hockey has been hemouraging for years and not because there is a lack of ice time….it is an extremely expensive sport! If the city wants to save some cash, forget ice and install a multi use turf field…. People will flock to it…not just Evanstonians, but neighbors as well!

    1. Hemorrhaging

      The facility is in such disrepair that countless families have chosen to spend their money in Lincolnwood, Skokie, Wilmette, and even Northbrook.  Hockey is not hemorrhaging, the facility is.

      1. Smart

        We've been told that the city makes money on the current facility and that it does not meet the needs of the people.

        First, if it makes money and is in disrepair, It must be that the city is using the profits for other projects. Maybe they are using it to build parking lots for private companies.

        Second, If people are running to Skokie and Wimette ice facilities, then why is it that the Evanston facility can't handle the number of people that want to use it.

  2. Keep the Ice

    Of course. Because if it's too expensive, then why bother, right? The current facility is insufficient, did you miss that part? Skokie has a gorgeous facility, as does Northbrook and Wilmette. I kick roaches off the ice in the morning, maybe the hockey kids are scared of those things. There's enough multi-use turf fields to choke on in the north suburbs; minivan magnets puking out kids and soccer paraphenalia every weekend.

  3. Tear it down and wait until we have the money

    The fact is, we just can't afford a Crown Center replacement right now.  Like it or not, we have promised pensions to some employees and the bills are coming due!  We need a plan to fix that now, and for pensions going forward.  After we fix that, and we can get back to having some resources to fix the all of streets that need fixing, maybe we can begin the discussion of providing our community with a ice hockey rink.  Until then I hope somebody on our City Council has the courage to say "sorry, but we promised the police and fire departments pension money that we don't have yet and we are obligated to honor our promise."  Then, we have some pressing repairs to the City streets that have been postponed, and probably some other serious deferred maintenance as well.

    As an aside, the McCaffrey rendering of the proposed building appears to be a view from the sky.  All I can tell is there will be large squares of a "green roof".  I guess the design must not be too exciting if the roof is their main visual.  What an uninformative drawing.

  4. Those who use it should pay

    Those who use it should pay for it. The rest of the taxpayers who do not use it should not have to pay. If those who use it do not want to pay, then it is not really needed. 

    1. Private club

      So you're advocating the tranformation of the public park and its facilities into a privately held, members only club?  Doing away with the employees, the after school programs and the community outreach?

      Keep up the good work… 

    2. We do pay

      The city actually makes a profit off the ice rink, despite charging below-market rates and not doing any marketing.  It is the biggest money earner in the recreation division.

  5. Start Over

    The scope of the project and the financing has changes significantly since the RFP.  Originally the progect was to be a 20 million dollar facility with two sheets of ice and approximately 20% larger than the exisiting facility.  There was to be NO COST to the city other than a land lease deal.  If the only way to get the thing built is to pursue other financing options then the staff and council needs to start over with a new proposal.  Since Evanston Parks and Rec is not a separate taxing district, I personally feel the best way to get this done is with community support from professionals who could donate their sevices and time, large private donations and lots of fundraising.  We don't need a for-profit rink and recreation complex.  We need one more sheet of ice, rooms for preschool programing, a gym and a space for a satelite library program. 

  6. Ice Arena not optimized
    In other states there are rinks that run solely on either hockey or figure skating. There are ways to analyze the amount of skaters and teams at various levels and then to optimize your programming so that you keep the ice fairly full 24/7. The issue is more than that the rinks are old. There are lots of old facilities out there running profitably. How do they do it? Is anybody actually looking into this and working to optimize the programming? It seems to me that since the rink had a skating / programming director that kept the schedule always the same and never looked into new things, that the program efficiency has never been looked into. Now that that person is gone, Evanston has a chance to hire in someone that will optimize the programs and prove to the residents of Evanston that a new complex can be supported.

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