Now that ground has been broken for the new Robert Crown Center, it’s time for Evanstonians to explore better ways to fund all the city’s parks and recreation programs.

The design for the new building looks spectacular.

The private fundraising effort for Crown has been impressive.


But the projections from city staff that the new facility will still lose money on an operating basis — though less money than currently — are disappointing.

Also disappointing — the reality that the planned $200,000 set-aside from annual operating funds for long term maintenance costs is likely to be totally inadequate to fund future capital repairs to a $53 million facility.

And the fact that all city parks and recreation programs raise from fees only half of their $12 million operating budget — in a time of tight fiscal constraints for the city and its taxpayers — appears simply unsustainable.

Evanston has a mixed economy for recreation activities — with private for-profit businesses and not-for-profit groups competing with city offerings.

The city has an important role to play in subsidizing recreational opportunities for underprivileged youth. But directly providing those services itself may not always be the most economical option.

It also may be underpricing its offerings for those who can afford them. That forces taxpayers to provide a subsidy to those who don’t need one.

And it may create unfair competition for local private businesses and nonprofits.

As part of the broader review of city spending in all departments, a careful examination of the city’s parks and recreation budget is needed to gradually reduce the gap between its revenue and expenses.

The city has made major strides in recent years toward making some of the services it provides — notably its parking garages — fully self-sustaining.

Recreation programs may always require some operating subsidy from general tax revenues. But that “ask” from taxpayers needs to be reduced from current levels.

Related stories

Council OKs Crown funding, construction plans (7/10/18)

New Crown Center will still operate at a loss (7/8/18)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Rethinking Recreation Funding

    I appreciate your opening up this conversation – sorely needed. And I also appreciate your not making a specific recommendation – it’s far too early for that. We need a structured, effective process in Evanston to figure out this issue, and the broader financial struggles we’re experiencing.

    1. Robert Crown Center

      I was quite pleased to see some conversation about the construction of the new Rober Crown Facility.

      I am responding in hopes that the community which will pay for this project, will be given a thorough explanation of this project, what is the need for this, and how much will it cost the taxpayers of Evanston. Of course, the project sounds quite nice, but with taxes as high as they are in Evanston, are we the taxpayers in agreement to pay even more? Why was the south branch closed several years ago, only to decide several years later to construct a brand new facility.?I hope other residents of Evanston will respond to this issue becaue otherwise I am afraid our taxes will be so high that Evanston will only become more gentrified and wont be the milticultural and multi=class community that most of us love so much. Thank you.

      1. Where were you?

        Hi Laura,

        Thanks for your comment. But I have to ask where were you and the other late-to-the-party critics of the Crown project during the decade or more during which it was under consideration — and especially in the roughly three years of intensive planning and fundraising that preceded the final commitment by the city to go ahead with construction?

        I personally wrote a huge number of stories about the project and attended a large number of meetings, many with sizable turnouts. It’s rather painful to think that you missed them all.

        One more chance to learn more about the project is coming up … 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the old Crown Center.

        At this point trying to stop the Crown project is ridiculous. But rethinking the extent to which the city subsidizes recreation activities is still an option.

        — Bill

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