Great uncle Henry from Winnetka might have to pay to park in order to see Junior in a hockey tournament at Robert Crown Center.

Grandma Sally from Oak Park might also have deal with paid parking, to join her friends in a workout class at the Levy Senior Center.

Our imaginary Henry and Sally, and anybody else who is not an Evanston resident, might soon have to fork out some cash (or use a link on an app) to pay for parking at the Robert Crown Center, the Levy Center, James Park, and Lovelace Park.

Evanston City Council is about to consider such a non-resident parking fee of from 50-cents to as much as $3 per hour at those facilities, according to Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson.

The pay-possibility was discussed Tuesday night at the Second Ward meeting, held, most approprately, at Robert Crown.

And the reaction was not positive.

Non-residents already pay 30% higher fees for Evanston recreation activities, and that’s before any potential parking expenses.

Thompson, whose department oversees the facilities in question, was not enthused about the paid parking potentiality.

“I fear we’ll have fewer people” coming to Evanston to use the rec centers and parks,” Thompson said.

The Parks and Recreation Director said she believes the city’s pay-parking motive is raising revenue, not necessarily regulating parking.

But she added, “I don’t want Evanston to be the community where you have to … [pay] out the wazoo in order to cross Howard Street,” she added.

Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) also had her doubts.

“I don’t think it’s just about the money,” Harris said, “but it’s the optics about hospitality. I want you here but you can’t park here” without paying.

Hockey and figure skating tournaments often draw large, out-of-town crowds to Robert Crown.

Thompson said that organizers and families might say “ice is $500 an hour, and now I have to pay to park?”

Ice rink at Robert Crown Center.

A 2nd ward resident added, “I would be devastated if I was paying for the ice and had no place to park” without coming up with more money.

One problem, particularly at Crown for ice events, is that there are not always enough places to park anyway, so people put their cars on neighboring streets.

As you might imagine, residents are not particularly thrilled to, say, go to church on Sunday morning, only to come home and find no parking spots in front of their own houses.

In fact, concerns over neighborhood streets filling with cars is part of what led to the city looking into non-resident parking fees.

A pay station at Patriot’s Park on the lakefront.

In addition, two years ago the city started charging non-residents for on-street parking at the lakefront as an alternative to charging for beach tokens.

And that program was expanded to more lakefront locations last year, despite the opposition of council members from the three lakefront wards.

Last fall, Ald. Devon Reid (8th) called for expanding the non-resident parking fee program to city recreation facilities like the Crown and Levy centers as a way to raise more revenue.

But Thompson said, “I fear if this goes through,” people will simply avoid the fee by “parking in your neighborhoods.”

Thompson said it’s possible that “the parking lots will be less full, but your neighborhood streets will be more full.”

Pay-to-park-to-play, Thompson told Evanston Now, “could backfire.”

One neighborhood solution, however the paid parking issue turns out, is to have street parking permits for residents only.

But that requires a majority of neighbors on the block to sign a petition and pay a small yearly fee.

And, said one citizen, “not everyone wants to pay.”

For now, at least, neighbors of the facilities in question should be getting notified of upcoming large events, so they can plan their own parking accordingly.

Thompson said she is informing alders of what’s taking place, so those alders can put updates in ward newsletters or emails.

Because right now, she noted, when Crown fills up with hockey players or figure skaters, it also fills up with parents, and siblings, and friends …. and cars.

“It’s a free-for-all,” she added, to find a place to park.

The question now … will a non-resident fee make things better or worse?

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. Cars are private property. Why is there an expectation they can be parked somewhere there is high demand for free?

  2. C’mon guys this is getting stupid. So a parent comes to watch their kid play a sport and they have to pay for parking in the parking lot? That’s ridiculous.

    So what if they don’t pay? they’ll get a ticket and get towed? Or will that be based on the race of the individual or will it be determined on the income of the individual? Get real guys, smh.

    I say it over and over again…. and you wonder why people are PISSED OFF at local & federal governing bodies.

  3. This is just ridiculous, but it was complete poor planning when they rebuilt Robert Crown should have know that more people would be coming to the facility. Evanston has to stop already with their horrid parking regulations for residents too!

  4. Yes, another ridiculous idea from our local government leaders. We WANT non-residents to come to Evanston to spend money in restaurants and with retailers. This parking fee concept presents another obstacle and unnecessary annoyance. And as someone said, this will just motivate visitors to park in the neighborhoods. The harsh parking regulations already damage interest in coming to our downtown; just look at the empty storefronts. Why build a showcase facility and then penalize people for driving to use it?

  5. I like Director Thompson’s quip – “Come to Evanston and Pay out the Wazoo” sounds like an apt choice for a new city motto…

  6. Not to be redundant with the previous comments but, RIDICULOUS! What else can we possibly do to make Evanston inhospitable?

  7. If more revenue is one of the goals, why not raise the rental fees for the ice and fields at Robert Crown? They are always full and being rented by club teams during the prime use times and not available to residents who don’t/can’t pay for their kids to be on these expensive teams.

    1. Agreed. The pricing structure could be re-evaluated to increase revenue with club teams, especially those from outside of Evanston. Evanston schools/residents should be able to book time with ease.

  8. We live by Crown and already get a lot of cars parking on Lee. Charging to park at Crown will only increase the likelihood of people looking to park on the street. Permit parking is such an unwelcoming pain- I would not want to participate in that for our street. At this point I think leaving it as it is would be the best solution.

  9. You want to make a really bad situation worse. No one wants to come here because of the parking situation. Visitors can’t even park in front of my bldg. and it is a residential street.

  10. Good article, Jeff. Thanks.

    I think it does touch on the fact that the Evanston City Council has been working hard at finding new ways to increase fee generated revenue year over year, similar to what their neighbor to the south does. Why does the Council do this? I believe one reason is that they are trying to make up for lost tax revenue.

    Based on the quotes in the article, as well as the comments about the article, it seems as though the Aldermen would better serve their residents and the community by working hard to grow the tax base, not find more ways to generate new funds from the city’s existing revenue sources.

  11. The hypothetical of some skater’s elderly grandparents being the non-resident visitor affected by proposed non-resident parking fees has swayed my opinion of the potential collateral damage of such a policy.

    If we want to penalize and discourage those non-residents utilizing the Robert Crown Center and try to generate additional revenue, it would be much better to increase the program and usage fees for non-residents than to charge them parking fees. And regarding increasing these program fees for non-residents, it should be done on a supply and demand basis for each program (are residents being crowded out or is there unsold supply for any particular class, etc.).

  12. This is such a non-issue. I live a block away from Crown and I haven’t seen any difference in parking availability on our block since the renovation. On rare occasions–maybe once a month–you see people parking on Main St. and maybe a dozen meters into the neighborhoods.

    The overwhelming amount of time the parking is plentiful.

    I do think that it is ridiculous for people to think that they are owed free storage for their cars on public property–whether that is in the Crown parking lot or on the street.

    Neighbors should be glad that the city isn’t charging them to use public property for their car storage and be glad that we have such a great facility within walking distance.

  13. Yes, increase facility rental fees in general and usage fees for NON-residents. (For examples, look at how Skokie & Wilmette charge non-residents versus residents.)
    Leave the free parking. ((Shame on the planners & developers for not including sufficient parking even while they bloated the budget beyond any sense of reality.)
    And please, just add a drive-up book drop-off so people don’t need to use parking spaces just to return materials.That is such a simple and low-cost fix and should have been added from the get-go, especially during the pandemic.

  14. Maybe the answer isn’t charge more, its charge less. City recreational facilities should have FREE parking if there is a lot. We want to encourage being active, kids in sports, family and friends supporting sports.

    As for the city as a whole- FREE Parking after 4pm and on weekends please.

    After a bit of research it seems that offering free parking after 4 p.m. could have a positive effect on the revenue of businesses, especially restaurants and retail shops. For instance, in Lexington Kentucky, the city council approved a plan to return to free parking at downtown meters on weekends and after 7 p.m. on weekdays, in order to **assist downtown businesses** and **keep the downtown lively**². In **New Haven**, Connecticut, the city offered free parking after 4 p.m. to restaurant customers at several garages downtown, which resulted in a **20 percent increase in restaurant sales**³.

    If they MUST charge- a method was found to be successful in **San Francisco**, California, the city implemented a program called SF park, which varied the price of curb parking by location and time of day, based on demand. The goal was to **optimize parking occupancy** and **reduce cruising** for parking spaces. The program found that performance pricing (adjusting prices based on occupancy) was more effective than time limits or free parking in achieving these goals¹. Therefore, the impact of free parking after 4 p.m. on revenue may vary depending on the context and objectives of each city. What’s Evanston’s? Build business and visitors or make money off one time visits with paid parking all day/every day? People won’t come back.

    (1) New parking plan keeps meters free on weekends and after 7 p.m. during ….
    (2) Qualified Parking Fringe Benefit | Internal Revenue Service.
    (3) SFpark: Pricing Parking by Demand – ACCESS Magazine.
    (4) Full article: Getting the Prices Right – Taylor & Francis Online.

  15. Let’s see, if I don’t live in Evanston and I want to play pick-up hockey during one of the many times it’s offered, I can go to Robert Crown and be annoyed with the parking fee, or I can go play in Skokie, or Winnetka, or Glenview… The only thing I would really miss is lunch at Supreme Burrito!

  16. Evanston totally ridiculous stop making visitors pay for our leaders inability to generate funds for our city.No wonder residents are moving out of Evanston to other suburbs with much more to offer.Why not start fees for all bikes who pay nothing but all streets were redesigned for them pushing parking car far away from curb!

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