After a discussion that seemed as rough and contentious as a hockey game, aldermen on Oct. 17 approved an RFP process to solicit developers for a new Robert Crown community and recreation center with three ice rinks. The new building would be constructed on the southwest corner of Crown Park (the northeast corner of Main Street and Dodge Avenue), and programming in the present center would not be interrupted during construction.
The City lists 12 goals for the project, among them minimizing the impact to the surrounding community during construction; improving ice, recreation and community programming opportunities for Evanston and the surrounding communities; and complying with the City’s local employment program and its guidelines for participation by Evanston-based and minority- or women-owned enterprises (WMWEBE).
The new building would have three ice rinks – one 100-foot-by-200-foot rink with seating for 1,200 spectators; a second one of 85 feet by 200 feet with seating for 500 spectators, and one 60-foot-by-80-foot studio ice sheet. There would also be a gymnasium with a three-lane running track above it, multipurpose rooms, locker/team rooms, concession services, four tennis courts (existing), a children’s playground, surface parking facilities, two developed outdoor baseball fields, two developed outdoor soccer fields and a branch library.
Allotting space for the outdoor playing fields and the branch library did not sit well with some aldermen. Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said they objected to the allocation of space for a branch library. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she was “surprised about the [branch] library” and asked whether the Library Board had been apprised about the possibility of a branch library there. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who said he met regularly with the Playground and Recreation Board about the design of a new Crown Center, responded that he had “discussed this with the Library board” and regularly updated the Library board about a Crown Center library branch.
“This is basically a vanilla-box space,” Ald. Wilson said. The space could accommodate another use, should plans change. In response to a comment by Ald. Burrus, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that, even if the ice rinks were to be operated by a private company, the City would rent space for its programs, as would the Library, should a branch be located there.
Ald. Holmes also asked whether the outdoor soccer and baseball fields could instead be converted to indoor fields. She said doing that could incorporate the indoor recreation facility contemplated for the former recycling center on Oakton Street. Ald. Wilson said that possibility had been considered but increasing the size of the building would also increase costs and cause the outdoor fields to be lost. He said he did not wish to fill the entire park with buildings and a parking lot.
Ald. Burrus said it was important to have plenty of parking at an ice rink, because families will stay to watch hockey games. For practices, she said, such as would be held in the indoor fields at the old recycling center, “parents just drop the kids off.”
Ultimately the aldermen voted unanimously to approve the request for proposals. Three separate options must be included in each proposal: 1) private financing, construction and operation of the project, with no public money being spent on construction or operation; 2) private financing and construction, but public operation of the project and a method by which the developer would be repaid with public monies for construction of the project ; 3) private financing and construction; private operation of the ice-skating rinks; public operation of the community center; and a method by which the developer would be repaid, e.g., with public monies, for constructing the community center.
A fourth, voluntary, option could include various plans to attain the City’s goals for the project, with the understanding that “one City objective is not to use public monies in constructing the project,” according to the RFP.
The requests for proposals will be sent to three companies, all of which have been “prequalified” by the City. The three – Harbour Contractors, McCaffery Interests and William Blair & Company – have until Feb. 2, 2012, to respond.