View from Dodge Avenue of proposed Robert Crown Community Center    . Rendering by John Ronan Architects

With a push from Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, City Council on Feb. 23 authorized City staff to issue a request for a proposal for a professional fundraiser in hopes of raising at least $5 million toward a new or improved Robert Crown Center.

The Mayor also proposed a timetable, which was accepted. Her request that Council consider issuing about $10 million in general obligation (GO) bonds “for the ice rink and community center improvements” and the Library consider issuing $2.5 million in GO bonds for a 5,000-square foot library there was not wholly discarded but did not receive formal approval from the aldermen.  

The present Crown Center, 1701 Main St., is 61,000 square feet and was built in 1975.

Mayor Tisdahl made the request fully cognizant of the amount of debt the City already has: “As a member of the City Council, and now the mayor, I believe that we have a large amount of debt in this community.”

Nonetheless,  she said, “As a hockey parent for many years, I believe Crown is an important part of the community.” 

In the memorandum to the City Council in which she outlined her proposal for issuing the GO bonds, she asked that the matter be an item of consideration in the 2016 budget discussions.

Rebuilding or renovating the Crown Center found support among many who use the Center, which has two ice rinks, several multi-purpose rooms and a gymnasium. During the citizen comment period, Brad Dunlop, president of the Evanston Youth Hockey Association, said, “I strongly feel there needs to be an updated facility. We are the largest buyer of ice, but Crown is also a community facility, a big source of pride. No other building touches as many lives of Evanston residents.”

Ruth Hudson said she has been a skater and a volunteer at Crown for the past four years. “Robert Crown is not just a building – it’s a vibrant community. I am 1,000% behind a new building. Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.” She also said the community is “expanding – as anyone can see when the roof leaks.”

David Ballard, who attended the meeting, said Robert Crown has fallen behind in two areas: the physical space and being a commercially viable center. 

Peter Kaplan, commissioner of AYSO said, “Crown is the centerpiece of AYSO [but] when I walk into Crown I find it embarrassingly bad.”

Proposals for a New or Renovated Crown Center

John Ronan of Ronan Architects in Chicago presented two “concept designs” for Crown Center: a new building and a renovated center with an addition. Both included two ice rinks (a half and a full in the renovation, two full in the new building), community rooms for classes or childcare, a gymnasium and a library. The tennis courts at the corner of Lee Street and Dodge Avenue would remain; the fields, now used for football, baseball and soccer, would be redone.

If renovated, the center would have a new entrance and a new drop off, a renovated parking lot and a library that leads to an outdoor reading garden. A new center would be rebuilt along Dodge Avenue, with its entry there, and the present one would be razed only after the new one was completed. It would have two full-size ice rinks, one with seating for 300, the other for 800; a basketball gymnasium with seating for spectators; a reception and skate-rental area; multipurpose rooms with partitions that would open for expanded use; and a library. A running track on the second floor would overlook the activity below. 

Council Discussion

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, asked whether ice rinks would be usable during the renovations.

“There could be a way to structure it to keep at least some ice operational,” said Mr. Ronan. “The gym could become a half-sheet of ice.”

“If you just kept the half sheet open, that’s really not usable,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. “This has been over a decade in the making. It’s more than just an ice rink. It’s a community center with a gym, day care, classes, and I think the focus of the people who served on the Crown Center Committee was to dial into that community center.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked, “Why do we need a fourth library? I think that attention ought to be given to recreation. With the library facilities at Gibbs-Morrison [formerly Boocoo on Church Street near Dodge Avenue], why do we need another library?”

Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Martin Lyons said the committee members “kept the library in.” City Council will have the ultimate say in the fate and design of the Crown Center.

Ald. Rainey also questioned how the professional fundraiser would be paid. “I remember we hired a professional fundraiser, who had millions of dollars, to professionally fund-raise for a downtown performing arts center. That fundraiser didn’t raise 25 cents.”

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the request for proposals would place the burden on the potential fundraiser as to how he or she wished to be paid. The total cost of a new Crown Center could be about $20 million. A proposal from Mr. Lyons and Deputy City Manager Joe McRae proposed setting the funding goals for the project as follows: $10 million in GO bonds issued by the City; $2.5 million in GO bonds issued by the Library; $2.5 million in an as-yet-unsecured grant from the state; and private funding of $5 to $18 million.

Under the timeline approved by Council, the fundraising consultant would be approved by April and an RFP for design and engineering would be issue next January. With sufficient financing assured, a construction RFP would be issued in February of 2017 and the bid awarded within a few weeks of that. Construction could take about a year.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...