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The City’s effort to find a partner willing to design, build, finance and operate a new ice rink and community center at Robert Crown park – one that would replace the current aging center much in need of repair – inched on at the Nov. 12 City Council meeting, as Council authorized the City Manager to obtain new “best and final” offers from two developers who submitted responsive bids for the project. Obtaining new bids is necessary, Council members said, because the gap between the cost of the two bids – $20 million for the low and $54 million for the high – reveals the gaps within the proposals themselves.

“Our intent is to [convince] of one of these two [developers] to come forward” with a viable, feasible plan for the ice rink and community center, said the City’s Director of Parks, Doug Gaynor. The City expects to meet with the developers and more sharply focus the City’s expectations and goals for the rebuilt park space.

One thing is clear: The proposals will include at least one regulation-sized ice rink and probably additional ice space. With the possibility of the recycling center’s use a possible indoor sports facility on hold if not abandoned, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked if Crown might become such a space. Robert Crown will be “primarily an ice facility,” answered City Manager Wally Bobkeiwicz, adding that an indoor sports facility “is not contemplated” at this time.

“There is a gym component,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who served on a subcommittee that examined proposals submitted by developers. Ice is a high-revenue use, he said; indoor soccer “does not generate the same cash flow.”

The process of finding a developer willing to pay for, build, and operate a replacement for the current Robert Crown began in April, 2010, when Council authorized a Request for Qualifications seeking developers interested in bidding on the project. By July 2010, the City received eight responses. The subcommittee then narrowed the proposals to three, and sent out a “request for proposal” to the three prequalified developers in October 2011. Responses were received in February of this year, and one was declared “non-responsive.”

The two “responsive” proposals presented the $34 million gap.

There was no indication of a time-frame within which to expect “best and final” offers from the two remaining vendors. Based upon the staff memo, the final sticking point may come down to financing. Consistently, developers have required the City “to provide some form of guarantee to the debt needed to finance the project.” The City does not want to do this, because it is trying to reduce debt and does not want to limit options for other infrastructure projects.