Fundraising for the new Robert Crown Center through a “core leadership group” is currently seeking major gifts for the new Center, and City Council is on board with the project. A very aggressive timeline, as described by Council and City Chief Financial Officer Martin Lyons, could see construction begin as early as July 2017.

According to a presentation made on April 18 to City Council, the City and its fundraising consultant CCS have not yet determined whether the project will result in a brand new Robert Crown Center, likely situated closer to the corner of Main Street and Dodge Avenue, at a cost of approximately $30 million, or a rehabilitation of the current structure that comes with an $18 million price tag.

The fundraising plan calls for four overlapping phases: planning; leadership gifts in the million-dollar range; a major-gifts phase seeking donations of $25,000 or more; and finally, a general campaign to include the public and other community organizations. A menu of naming rights will be available during the leadership and major gifts phase – the center’s campus for $5 million, for example, down to a multipurpose room for $100,000, according to the CCS report. The proposed West Branch Library within the Center, or the main ice rink, can carry a donor’s name for about $2.5 million.

CCS also anticipates gifts of $3 to $5 million above and beyond the “lead” gifts, said spokesperson Michael Happ. “We have in fact begun the leadership-gifts phase,” he said, including the offering of naming rights to select donors.

Several aldermen openly wondered how a campaign can seek donations when the determination as to which direction to go – new building or rehabbed old building – has not been made. “What are you telling people [potential lead donors] we are building?” asked Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.

“I’m a visual person,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward. “It’s hard to envision when we don’t know what we’re doing.”

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl summed up the ambiguity. “I think it’s exciting that we’re pretty much committed to a new Robert Crown,” she said.

Mr. Lyons said the plan was to make a decision before the end of the year and make it based upon the success of fundraising between now and then. “The reason we’re being this aggressive is because of the condition of the building,” he said. The City does not want to replace major building components such as the ice rink coolers, if a new building is on the horizon.

City Council has been hearing similar gloom-and-doom stories since the 1990s, said Ald. Rainey. She asked whether the committee or consultant considered a binding community referendum seeking public input on the question of whether or not to issue bonds to cover the cost of a new Center. “That would be the purview of the City Council,” said Mr. Lyons. To appear on the April 2017 ballot, a referendum question would need to be placed before year end.

Reiterating the Library Board’s commitment of at least $2.5 million to the Center, Library Board President Michael Tannen who is also a member of the core leadership team, said, “The Library Board is all in on this project.”

Parks and Recreation Board president Dan Stein, also a core leadership team member, called the Center “the heart of Evanston. … We’ve been talking about [a new Center] for years. Now is the time,” he said.

As the presentation was being made, the core leadership process continued, as the committee and CCS continued efforts to secure million dollar gifts and sell naming rights. “Have you contacted Shani Davis?” asked Mayor Tisdahl. Mr. Davis is an Olympic gold medal winning speed skater who trained at Robert Crown.

“We tend not to identify specific donors” publicly, said Mr. Happ.

As noted, construction could begin in just over a year even though it has not yet been determined what will be built.