The conversion of a former medical supplies warehouse to an indoor soccer practice facility finally obtained Council approval on Aug. 12, completing a long journey through zoning changes and the special-use process that began months ago. The facility, at 2025 Dempster St., between Dodge and Hartrey avenues, will soon become the practice home to hundreds of Evanston Soccer Association players.
Evanston Soccer Association, which its president Matt Tobin said serves about 650 soccer players between the ages of 7 and 17, has long sought local practice space for the winter indoor soccer season. In past years, players have been forced to practice in facilities in Highland Park and in Chicago. Earlier facilities, such as the City’s now-closed Recycling Center, have been considered as possible locations but have never panned out.
The facility at 2025 Dempster St. was the home of LSL Medical Supplies and received City support for favorable property tax treatment in 2008. Despite City support, the company moved out sometime before 2012. The location has been vacant since.
The building is in an area zoned for industrial uses, not indoor recreation. Prior to June 2013, indoor recreation was not permitted within industrial-zoned areas. With the Dempster site and indoor soccer in mind, City Council passed in June an amendment to the zoning ordinance allowing for "commercial indoor recreation," but only as a special use. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, often protested the zoning change, saying she thought the property would be removed from the tax rolls should a not-for-profit indoor sports entity acquire industrial property and then petition the County for tax exempt status. Eventually, Ald. Rainey agreed to the zoning change, and commercial indoor recreation became a special use in industrial areas. A special use, however, still requires an appearance before and recommendation from the Plan Commission and then a full City Council vote.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, attended the Planning and Development Committee meeting on Aug. 12 and told the Committee members he was "excited about the positive presence [the Evanston Soccer Association is] going to bring to the Second Ward and in particular the Dempster and Dodge area." Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, also voiced support.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said that he has a child who participates in indoor soccer in the winter. "Not everyone is interested in driving to Highland Park and sitting in a parking lot" for 90 minutes while their kids practice. "I have the advantage of having 900-page City Council packets to read." He was referring to the Aug. 12 City Council packet, a PDF file containing items on the meeting agenda and background information regarding those items totaling 939 pages.
None of the other Aldermen on the P&D Committee spoke against the measure, but Ald. Rainey voiced displeasure with a request to suspend the rules so that the matter could pass in one reading rather than the required two. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, pointed out that the next City Council meeting was nearly a full month away because to Council’s summer break – a reason to pass the measure in August.
Ald. Rainey, however, continued to question suspension of the rules. "I am going to support this. I was not going to support his in the past," she said. But "I am not sure what the reason is" for the request to suspend the rules."
In response, Lander Brown, Vice President of the Evanston Soccer Association, said that with winter approaching the group needed to reserve indoor space and a delay could result in losing a deposit on Highland Park or Clark Street space.
"Before you told me that, I was going to vote to suspend the rules because Ald. Braithwaite threatened me earlier that if I didn’t," said Ald, Rainey. She said that Ald. Braithwaite told her that he would vote to suspend the rules on the Howard-Hartrey TIF expansion if she voted to suspend the rule for the indoor soccer project. She called the Autobarn project "an enormous project" and added that the TIF expansion vote "compare[d] in no way with the suspension of the rules for this.
"I realize everything is relative, but I’m just telling you – it is the only reason I am voting to suspend the rules. Because he has told me that he will not vote to suspend the rules on the Howard-Hartey TIF. So that’s the politics going on here. Very unfortunate and believe me I am a person who can forgive. But I won’t forget this...
"This is a good project and I wish you luck. It’s just too bad that certain people had to stoop to such depths to get this vote. It has nothing to do with [the Evanston Soccer Association]," she said.
"Thank you for your support," said Mr. Brown.
The measure passed unanimously at the Planning and Development Committee level. When it got to Council, there was no debate. It was introduced on the consent agenda, and the rules were suspended so that it passed immediately after being introduced. The Association plans to have the facility operating in time for the coming winter season.