Evanston aldermen voted Monday night to set up a subcommittee to try to figure out what to do with city-owned properties on Oakton Street at the northwest corner of James Park.
The Evanston Recycling Center at 2222 Oakton St. (Google Street View image)
Encouraged by strong interest from private developers in creating a new ice rink and recreation center less than a mile away at the Robert Crown Center, several aldermen see the shuttered building that once housed the city's recycling center and the animal shelter next door as opportunities for recreation-related economic development and potentially doing it without capital cost to the city.
And leaders of the Evanston Baseball & Softball Association were ready at the meeting with a proposal to turn the vacant recycling center into an indoor sports complex that baseball lovers could use in the winter off season.
Aldermen weren't necessarily ready to endorse that plan though, with some apparently seeing opportunities for a larger facility at the site.
In addition, Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the site, said she wanted the interests of people in the immediate area considered -- "treated just as special as people living near the lakefront are treated when it comes to how land there is going to be used."
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the council should focus on the economic development potential of any new use -- including how much additional business it might generate for businesses along Oakton.
Randall Mayne, 321 Lake St., a member of the city's Playground and Recreation Board, which recently endorsed the baseball group's proposal, said that as a parent of three kids involved in youth sports he has ended up taking his kids out of town for indoor recreation opportunities. Bringing that home to Evanston would provide economic development opportunities for restaurants and other businesses, he said.
While Alderman Rainey was skeptical about the indoor recreation concept, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said that while thousands of youngsters and adults participate in sports activities at James Park in the summer, it's little-used in the winter time and the indoor sports concept shouldn't be ruled out.
The aldermen also discussed the possibility of moving the animal shelter, just west of the recycling center, to a different location.
Gail Lovinger, 2225 Simpson, a representative of CARE, the volunteer group that largely runs the shelter, said the group isn't opposed to a possible move.
The group has been raising funds for a shelter expansion for several years, and Lovinger noted that moving to a new site would almost certainly mean added costs which volunteer fundraising would be unlikely to fully cover.
She suggested exploring opportunities to cooperate with nearby communities, including Skokie, on an expanded shelter, if the aldermen wanted to move the shelter to a new site.