For Years Evanston has been flirting with the idea of launching a full blown fundraising campaign to build a new Robert Crown Center. The flirtation turned the corner and entered a certain realm of reality on Jan. 19, when City Council agreed to proceed with the recommendations submitted by the City’s fundraising consultant, Chicago-based Community Counceling Services Co. (CCS).

The decision followed on the heels of a report completed by CCS after a “phase I” Feasibility Report issued by CCS on Dec. 15, 2015. Council’s decision means fundraising will begin almost immediately, with the goal of raising $3 to $5 million, excluding “naming rights” and other major gifts. If all goes well, according to the staff report, the design phase will begin before the end of the year and construction could start as early as 2017.

City CFO Marty Lyons said the realistic hope was that private fundraising gifts would “match and hopefully exceed the amount of money to be raised in a bond issue” and repaid by the taxpayers as a whole. Fundraising will be encouraged on behalf of both the sports facilities, most prominently the sheets of ice for hockey, figure and speed skating, and the planned west branch of the Evanston Public Library.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, praised the CCS report, but raised some concerns about the “bigger picture of philanthropy in the community.” In terms of the priorities of possible donors who responded to a CCS survey, 40%, by far the highest percentage, viewed Robert Crown as low on the list.

Travis Carley, CCS’s corporate vice president, agreed that the low priority was one of the “challenges that fundraising for this project would face.” There is “currently not a core base of existing donors for the community center… from which to start,” he said. Once a core is identified, and the campaign gains momentum, the expectation is the project’s priority will increase.

“It is time to double down and make [Robert Crown] a focus,” said Ald. Tendam.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asked if Northwestern University had been approached, particularly given their history as a user of the facility. For a time, Northwestern’s club hockey team played at Robert Crown, but now play in Highland Park. Mr. Lyons said contact with Northwestern “Wasn’t part of CCS’s role” because the “City had a relationship already.” The City is having “ongoing discussions with Northwestern,” he said.

Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes Robert Crown, said, “I’m excited and optimistic… Even though it’s old, even though it’s tired, even though it might be occasionally malodoriferous, wonderful things happen there… it’s something that we owe to the community to have an appropriate facility for all the great things that happen there.”

Michael Tannen, president of the Library Board, addressed Council to express the library’s firm commitment to the project. “We want to see Robert Crown built…Vision will provide momentum, and with momentum will come the money,” he said.

To date, Mr. Lyons said, about $75,000 of the $477,500 fundraising contract has been paid to CCS. The remaining $400,000 effort will begin now. “This methodology, which I think is the art of the possible,” will keep returning to Council every step of the way. “Council is on record” along with the Library Board for “a minimum level of commitment. This is going to happen,” he said.

If all goes according to plan, the new Robert Crown Center could open as early as 2018.