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Faced with a retired Recycling Center on a plot adjacent to one of the City’s largest parks, City Council voted to explore leasing the facility to a coalition of Evanston youth sports groups for conversion into an indoor sports facility.
In so deciding, Council rejected two other options on the table: selling the land to a private developer as a strip mall and keeping the facility as a satellite City storage building with possible use for salt storage and de-icing equipment.
The City’s animal shelter, across the parking lot in the 2200 block of Oakton Street, will be renovated and expanded if the lease goes through. Under the stripmall proposal the animal shelter would have been relocated.
A proposal presented by the Evanston Youth Baseball Association to City Council several months ago resulted in the formation of the West Oakton Committee to study possible uses of the Recycling Center. The Committee delivered its report to a special City Council meeting on Sept. 19. The report included three options, each with its own coalition of champions.
Youth sports organizations backed the indoor sports facility, which would convert the building to a 13,000- square-foot multisport indoor facility for soccer, baseball and lacrosse use during the winter months. A parking lot of 26 spaces would serve both the sports building and the renovated animal shelter next door.
Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, introduced this option with a motion that the City Manager negotiate a lease from the City to the sports organizations.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, objected. With the City under a “tremendous financial burden,” it just does not make sense to “give away” this building, she said.
Addressing members of the public who argued that the building would be a way to combat rising rates of unhealthy and inactive children, she said, “I am not sure a 13,000 square foot building is going to take care of all the poor obese black and white children. It’s not the right building.” (Other indoor soccer facilities in the Chicagoland area are much larger, up to 90,000 square feet.)
Finally, she urged the shopping plaza at Dempster/Dodge as an alternative, and privately owned, site for the facility, noting that it had more than enough vacant space available.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz submitted a memo in favor of the strip mall concept. Staff indicated that sale of the land would bring in a one-time injection of $1.2 to $1.9 million with added property taxes annually thereafter. This proposal, however, was never seriously considered.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, wanted more information from the City’s Public Works Department before voting. A presentation about possible salt dome locations is scheduled for the coming weeks, and “it is not fair to move ahead [before] that hearing,” she said.
The indoor soccer crowd prevailed. Council voted 6-2, with alds. Holmes and Rainey the “no” votes (Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, absent).
The details remain to be ironed out. Speaking at citizen comment on Sept. 26, Junad Rizki said he estimated that the facility would cost taxpayers about $75,000 a year.
“We need to do better numbers here,” he said. Ald. Rainey then referred the matter to City Staff for an in-depth analysis of the costs associated with all three options presented. While Council may have voted to negotiate a lease, much work remains to be done before plans for conversion are set in motion.