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Interesting opportunities present themselves,” said City Manager Wally Bobkewicz about a decommissioned recycling center, closed since November 2010, and plans to expand and renovate the Animal Shelter. The combined properties, available for development if the animal shelter relocates, create “potential options” for the City to explore, he told City Council on Jan. 24.

Council ultimately voted to appoint a subcommittee to explore possibilities, but not without significant disagreement over how to proceed. Ald. Rainey said, “I want the South Side to get the same
attention as the lakefront.” then praised the animal
shelter and the “very active” community gardeners who
occupy space behind the site.

The item appeared on the agenda as a special order of business, before Citizen Comment. At Citizen Comment, David Campbell, co-president of the Evanston Baseball and Softball Association (EBSA), presented a proposal to convert the Recycling Center into “a dedicated indoor practice facility for our youth sports programs,” and conversion that “would come at zero cost to the City of Evanston.” The facility would tie into the ball fields in James Park which are directly behind the site, he said.

Also at Citizen Comment, Gail Lovenger of Community Animal Rescue Effort, the organization that operates the animal shelter, said, “We are not tied to that site. We are open to moving or we are quite happy to stay, as long as [the facility] is expanded.” Mr. Bobkiewicz had earlier indicated that Skokie was at least open to the idea of opening a joint Evanston-Skokie animal shelter, possibly in the Skokie Channel area.

That discussion occurred before the citizen comment portion of the Council meeting. Ninth Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus, opened the debate. “When we start talking about this, we need to talk economic development,” she said. During the summer months, the area is very active, she added. “Once the cold weather hits, the area is ‘deactivated,’” she added. Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, agreed, saying she did not want “to lose the economic development angle.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward (the ward in which the site sits), said she had multiple concerns. “When I look at James Park, I can’t help but think of the lakefront [which Council always says is] ‘so special,’” she said, “I want the South Side to get the same attention as the lakefront.” She then praised the animal shelter and the “very active” community gardeners who occupy space behind the site.

Ald. Rainey then attacked the idea of using the site for indoor recreation. “I do not want to see another exclusive use [such as] indoor soccer, indoor this, indoor that, where people pay huge sums of money” for kids to engage in sports activities. “It isn’t the vision that I’ve always had for James Park, which is inclusive.” She called for a community meeting for input into possible uses for the site.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, called a community meeting “a great idea,” but added, “I don’t think we should immediately write off indoor sports.” Many families, his included, he said, travel great distances for their children to participate in indoor sports in the winter. “We drive up to Highland Park,” he said. “If an Evanston kid can’t get to Highland Park [now, that kid] can’t participate.” An indoor facility in Evanston would open up opportunities for Evanston kids, he said.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, agreed with Ald. Wilson. “Looking at the site plan, indoor recreation make a lot of sense,” she said. Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward. moved that Council form a subcommittee to explore options for redevelopment of the site.

Ald. Rainey objected. “This is preconceived. It doesn’t feel good to me,” she said, adding that indoor recreation was the inevitable conclusion of any such subcommittee. Only Ald. Burrus voted with her. Ald. Jean-Baptiste’s motion passed, 7-2, and the subcommittee, once formed, may take a look at the EBSA proposal.