Valli Produce employees join Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty, center, after presenting a 50,000 check to the City toward the fundraising effort for the new Robert Crown Community Center and Library now under construction. RoundTable photo

Valli Produce Fresh Market made a big splash in Evanston when it opened up its grocery store in the Evanston Plaza Shopping Center at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue in 2015, providing a major boost for an area that had been left reeling when Dominick’s pulled up stakes several years before.

Now the business will leave another big mark – and have a lobby at the new Robert Crown Community Center named in its honor.

Valli officials announced this week that they are committing $250,000 over 15 years to help build the new Robert Crown Community Center and Library, now under construction at Main Street and Dodge Avenue. City Council members approved a resolution at their April 8 meeting authorizing the City Manager to execute a gift agreement with Valli.

“We’re very excited to make this contribution to the re-envisioning of the Robert Crown Community Center’s facilities,” said Frank Greco, one of Valli’s owners, flanked by employees dressed in work garb, at the April 8 meeting.

In a statement, Mr. Greco said, “We love doing business in Evanston, where our customers want to live healthy and eat fresh produce and meat and we are grateful that our customers have helped us revitalize the Dempster-Dodge area. We think the new Robert Crown Community Center, with the library and all the recreational resources just blocks away, is another great addition to the neighborhood.”

Friends of the Robert Crown Center (FRCC), the volunteer group leading the fundraising drive for the new community center and library under construction, expressed appreciation for Valli, which employs 120 people at its Evanston store, including dozens of Evanston Township High School students and graduates.

The lobby of the new Robert Crown Center will be named for Valli Produce Fresh Market Lobby, the group announced.

“Valli Produce Fresh Market is a great Evanston neighbor and business,” said Daniel Stein, president of the Friends group. “They employ a friendly, diverse workforce and have quickly become part of the fabric of Evanston. We are so grateful for their generous commitment to Evanston’s new crown jewel.”

At the meeting, aldermen also approved a resolution to accept a naming rights donation from Wintrust Bank, for which a field and multi-purpose room at the new Robert Crown will be named.

With the latest gifts, FRCC has now collected more than $5.4 million in cash of the nearly $12.4 million pledged, the group announced. Many donors are making multi-year commitments that generally range from three to 10 years, the group said.

“Thanks to the contributions of more than 1,050 donors, the City is currently building a $53 million asset but will need to finance a little more than $38 million of that guaranteed maximum price,” said Mr. Stein, former president of the City’s Recreation Board. “This is a great public-private partnership that will deliver 50% more programming in a traditionally underserved part of Evanston.”

At the meeting, aldermen approved a 10-year memorandum of understanding with the friends group, outlining the relationship between the City and volunteer-led entity and laying out details how funds raised by FRCC are applied to the Robert Crown project for construction and paying off debt.

The agreement provides that the FRCC will transfer $5 million in cash in the current year and $1 million in 2020, to be put directly toward construction costs. Starting in 2021, the City will invoice FRCC annually for 95% of liquid cash held, which will be dedicated to annual debt service payments issued for the project, the staff memo said.

Once the City has received $15 million in cash payments from the FRCC, all future payments from the group will be directed to the Robert Crown Maintenance Fund.

Also under the agreement, the City will produce and deliver to FRCC annual financial reports on the Robert Crown project and maintenance activities. FRCC, meanwhile, must provide annual financial reports regarding funds collected, pledged and disbursed in accordance with FRCC Bylaws.

The City has agreed to enter into eight agreements with large donors for the new Crown Center. They are Arie and Ida Crown Memorial, Wintrust Bank, the Evanston Soccer Association, the Evanston Hockey Association, Northwestern University, Beacon Academy, the Chicago Young Americans Hockey Association and Valli.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.