We were saddened to learn that negotiations between Evanston Sports Federation and the City have been halted. ESF is a not-for-profit group composed of Evanston Baseball and Softball Association, Evanston AYSO, Evanston Lacrosse and the Evanston Township High School Wildkits, that proposes to bring year-round indoor sports to every kid in Evanston who wants to play.
They propose to invest $750,000 in build-outs but would like for the City to kick in something, too, chiefly a rent subsidy, so ESF could have a 25-year lease for $1 per year. There would be no other costs to the City.
At a meeting last June, some aldermen objected to the proposal, for the most part on economic terms, and now ESF has withdrawn its offer. ESF officials have indicated they would return to the table if there is a shift in attitude on the City’s part. We encourage any aldermen who are on the fence or who oppose the offer to take a fresh look at it.
The offer presents a wonderful opportunity for the City and the community, from bringing life to an underused building to offering kids a chance for positive growth.
The City Council has made “youth” one of its priorities. The City has initiated programs in job-readiness and mentoring and is looking for ways to encourage kids to stay in school and to look to a future with post-high-school education or training. Sports train mind and body; they help build confidence and character; they add a sense of belonging.
The framework is already there. All these organizations have proven records of success. Participation in sports offers discipline and team-building, and most coaches are de facto mentors. Hundreds of kids are already enrolled in these programs and ESF says it wants to expand so every kid can participate, regardless of income.
A framework for helping kids is already there. The spirit of volunteerism is there.
It appears that ESF is committed to its project and will take it elsewhere – to Skokie or Niles, perhaps – if we do not accept it. We have already lost some of Evanston’s richness. Light Opera Works relocated to Wilmette; Northlight Theatre went to Skokie, and there is a continuing drain of artists from the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.
We need a successful Citywide program of youth sports, and this one has the potential to expand. People would come to Evanston instead of to other suburbs that have water parks, better ice rinks, roller skating rinks, and they would likely shop or dine here.
Of course, some might bring up the possibility of a new Robert Crown Center, but at this point it is not clear when or if or how that will be built. It is on hold indefinitely, and anyway it is not planned to have an indoor sports facility.
ESF’s offer is innovative and inclusive. We doubt there is another better use for the recycling center, and we think the rent request is reasonable. The City subsidizes a lot of programs, not-for-profits as well as businesses. This is a golden moment for the community. We hope that those who oppose it will soon come around. If we do not accept the offer, it is almost certain one of our neighbors will, and once again, Evanston will have lost an opportunity.