Evanston needs to scale back its ice rink plans. That’s the conclusion of a staff report to be presented to aldermen Monday.
The report recommends spending $17 million to renovate the Robert Crown Center at roughly its existing size, rather than expanding it from from 1.5 to 2.5 ice rinks, as had been proposed under earlier plans from private developers that were estimated to cost between $31 and $43 million.
As detailed by the report, plans for a bigger skating facility — initially proposed more than two years ago — ran up against changes in the cost of financing brought on largely by the recent failure of big ice rink projects in other communities.
As a result, the report says, any “private” project funded now would require the city to be ultimately liable for any revenue shortfalls.
And the interest rate to finance a private project would be more than double what the city pays to borrow money — dramatically increasing the ultimate cost.
The report concludes that the market for ice rink facilities in the area is saturated and that none of the private models could deliver enough revenue to cover their costs — which would leave taxpayers holding the bag for losses.
The report includes an analysis of 11 ice rink projects and eight other recreation center projects in the Chicago area.
The staff is also recommending that the City Council vote Monday to apply for a $2.5 million state grant that could help fund the project. A memo to aldermen says city staff only recently learned of the availability of the state grant program, and that it is not a recurring annual program — having last been offered in 2009.
The ice rink report had been scheduled to be presented at a council meeting last Monday that was cancelled because of poor weather conditions.