Four of the strongest and most respected sports organizations – Evanston Baseball and Softball Association, Evanston AYSO, Evanston Lacrosse and the Evanston Township High School Wildkits – have formed the not-for-profit Evanston Sports Federation (ESF), the purpose of which is to create and operate a year-round sports facility for Evanston youth. They contemplate year-round uses for football, lacrosse, baseball and soccer activities and practice.

The ESF Board would like to convert the City-owned property on Oakton Street between James Park and the Animal Shelter into such a facility. The building on that property formerly housed the City’s recycling center and now is used principally for storage of City vehicles and equipment. Recently the Fire and Life Safety Division conducted emergency training exercises in the parking area there. But for the most part there is no activity in the area, short of coming and going, storing and retrieving.

For almost a year now, ESF representatives have been talking with City officials to see if it is possible to come to mutually acceptable terms for a long-term lease of the moribund property. They have proposed to pay all capital expenses for the build-out to create the sports facility, cover all operating costs and help offset the cost to the City of obtaining alternate storage facilities. According to documents presented to the City, ESF would also share with the City any proceeds from revenues generated through rental of the facility to outside organizations. In return they are requesting a multi-year lease with options to renew for a total period of 25 years with a rent of $1 per year.

According to a July 9 presentation to the Administration and Public Works Committee by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, some issues, such as storage, parking and traffic patterns remain “nettlesome” and require further negotiation.

We hope that these issues will be worked out speedily and to the satisfaction of both the City and ESF. A year-round sports facility would be an asset to the Evanston community. It will be open to all kids; the use of the recycling center is consistent with other activities in the area; and it can serve as an indoor classroom for the intangibles that children absorb by being around caring adults.

Most, if not all, of the four entities comprising ESF are open to all kids in Evanston regardless of income. ESF representatives say the facility would serve all kids in all wards of Evanston and of all economic backgrounds.

With the Levy Center, which has a fitness center and offers recreation classes, James Park’s sports fields and community gardens nearby, using the recycling center continues the area’s theme of health and exercise and of that area. It is likely, too, that at least some of the West Oakton businesses will see more patrons, as families will be drawn to that area.

A year-round sports facility would provide constructive and inexpensive fun for kids. Even more, participation in sports is a good discipline for the mind and the body. Being on a team can help build character, as kids learn how to accept advice and constructive criticism from their coaches, trust teammates, and treat their adversaries respectfully, win or lose – in short, how to play fair.

We understand that not all aldermen are on board yet, and we urge those who have voiced opposition to the proposal to reconsider their position and talk with the City Manager and ESF representatives to see how their concerns can be addressed.

In the past year and a half, the City has made considerable investments in economic development, urging entrepreneurs to come to Evanston. This idea is home grown. Let’s give our own teams and our youth a chance to flourish here.