Despite continued complaints from speakers seeking to derail the project, Evanston aldermen moved forward Monday night with plans to fund completion of the new Robert Crown Community Center.

The aldermen:

  • Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Friends of the Robert Crown Center, the volunteer group doing fundraising for the project.
  • Raised the city’s self-imposed borrowing limit from $150 million to $152 million to cover bond scheduled to be issued this year for the Crown Center and other capital projects.
  • Introduced an ordinance providing for the issuance of the general obligation bonds.
  • Authorized the city manager to execute naming rights gift agreements for $500,000 with Wintrust Bank and for $250,000 with Valli Produce.

The Friends agreement specifies that the group will provide $5 million in cash donations toward the project next month and an additional $1 million next February. After that, as pledges are redeemed the group will make annual fund transfers to the city for the next eight years.

The group so far has raised $5.4 million in cash of nearly $12.4 million pledged by over 1,000 donors and has set a goal of raising a total of $15 million.

The bond debt to be issued this year for the Crown project is expected to total $15 million, although the aldermen set a cap for those bonds of $18 million. The bond issuance for other capital projects is also expected to total $15 million, but the ordinance sets a cap for those bonds of $18 million as well.

Although the Crown Center at Dodge Avenue and Main Street is located in what Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes the site, has described as an underserved area of the community, opponents who described themselves as members of the Poor People’s Campaign of North Cook/Lake County, claimed increased property taxes for the project would drive the poor from the community.

Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie said the city is under contract to complete the Crown Center project as designed for a fixed price by a set deadline.

She said delaying the work would end up costing more in the long run and would also put at risk numerous donations to the project.

Robin Rue Simmons.

She also denied a claim by Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, that the project was over budget. Simmons also claimed the contractor was failing to meet minority hiring goals.

But City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the last report to a city committee showed the project was meeting those goals.

Wilson said the contractor would face financial penalties from the city if it fails to meet the hiring goals and that the city would face serious legal consequences if it were to delay the project.

The debt limit increase and bond issue measures were approved 6-1, with Rue Simmons casting the only no vote. A final vote on the bond issuance is expected at the Council’s April 22 meeting.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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