At the July 9 meeting of the Administration and Public Works Committee, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz presented an update on the negotiations between the City and Evanston Sports Federation, a local not-for-profit group that would like to lease the former recycling center for a year-round youth sports facility.
“Discussions continue,” Mr. Bobkiewicz reported, “but there are a couple of sticking points: Storage has been a nettlesome issue, and there are some ingress/egress issues [parking, ADA-accessible parking spaces and a traffic plan].” The major terms of the deal remain the same, he said, including lease options for up to 25 years at $1 per year, underscored by the Council mandate to make the lease “as advantageous as possible” for Evanston Sports Federation (ESF).
David Campbell of ESF said his group would put in between $750,000 and $1 million to cover the build-out costs and would cover most of the routine maintenance costs. The City, he said, would cover the cost of roof repairs and would have a “buy-out option to make us whole if the City has a better use for the facility after two years.”
Three aldermen voiced opposition to the proposal.
“That we would give away a building for 25 years for $1/year is an outrage,” said Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. She said she will work to defeat the proposal.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “In terms of rent, I would never agree to $1 year.” She reiterated her previous objection to the use of the recycling center property, saying that since a new ice rink facility is going to be built on the Robert Crown site, the indoor sports facility should be there.
Ninth Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus said she felt it was “alarming to give an advantage to this group at a huge cost to the City.” She said she saw no return on investment such as that expected with the City partnerships on Howard Street. She was referring to the City’s subsidizing two lease-to-own properties on Howard Street: a theater and a wine bar with two affordable apartments (one rented by the owners of the wine bar). In each case the buildings are on a lease-to-own basis, but the City will recoup only its original cost for the buildings, not the build-out costs, which are estimated to total $900,000 or more.
Ald. Burrus also asked why ESF was a not-for-profit organization rather than a for-profit business.
Mr. Campbell said ESF has “never said that this will be a cost item to the City. … I don’t see how it hurts the City to bring $1 million of our own capital to bring a facility that will be used by the entire community at no cost to the City.” He also said, “We felt that [being] a for-profit vehicle would increase costs and make use of the facility prohibitive to some parts of the community. As a not-for-profit, that would not happen.”
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, started to speak but Ald. Rainey cut her off, saying she should not be allowed to speak since her husband, William Blanchard, had been active in Evanston Baseball and Softball Association (one of the organizations that formed ESF) and was doing volunteer work for ESF.
“She can’t vote, because of the conflict of interest,” Ald. Rainey said.
“Would my husband benefit directly from his former directorship of EBSA?” asked Ald. Grover.
Ald. Burrus said Ald. Grover should be allowed to ask questions but not to vote. “Asking questions is not in conflict,” she said.
“It applies to questions as well,” said Ald. Rainey. She asked Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar whether Ald. Grover could speak.
“Do you need more information – like actual facts?” asked Ald. Grover.
Mr. Farrar said, “It would be premature for me to give advice with respect to the ethics code.” He suggested that the matter be referred to the City’s Ethics Board.
“I’ll make that reference,” Ald. Rainey said.
Mr. Bobkiewicz reminded the Committee members that there were originally three options for the recycling center site: a salt dome (now planned to be at the same site as the service center), a commercial/retail concept (which is now farther west on Oakton Street) and the sports facility.
“The return on investment,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz, “is the benefit to the community.” He added that he would be open to “any additional insight for Council to talk about.”