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Two area hockey groups are stepping up with donations to the Robert Crown Community Center project in exchange for ice time and partial naming rights at one of the new center’s NHL-sized rinks.
At the Sept. 23 City Council meeting, aldermen approved gift and use agreements with the Chicago Young Americans (CYA) Hockey Organization and the Evanston Youth Hockey Association (EYHA).
Under the agreements, CYA, which previously had donated $500,500 through the Friends of Robert Crown to support construction of the new center, will be able to place the organization’s logo on one of the four corners of Rink 1 in the new building. A trophy case near Rink 2 will be made available to the organization to fill with hockey memorabilia.
The organization will pay a usage for rental of ice time at a rate of $425 per hour with an annual increase of 2.8%, City staff said.
The Evanston Youth Hockey Association, which had previously donated $100,000, will also get to place its logo on one of the four corners of Rink 1 in the new building as well as receive a trophy case.
Under the use agreement between the City and EYHA, the group will pay for all usage in the new center at a rate of $325 per hour with an annual increase of 4%.
Speaking at the City Council’s Administration & Public Works before the vote, some Evanston residents who are participants in the CYA program expressed excitement at having a home rink to play.
Lisa Santos, currently a sophomore at Evanston Township High School, told aldermen she’s in her fifth season at CYA, and “I love playing for CYA because it has taught me to time manage, how to be a leader, and most importantly, given me self confidence.”
Playing hockey at Crown when she was only 6, Ms. Santos said “my teammates and I are really excited to call Robert Crown our new home. It will be fun to play in the same community.”
“The boys in the CYA program have their own rink in Palatine and sharing a rink with them is not ideal,” she said. She said the split use sometimes means girls don’t get to practice until 10:30 p.m.
“Being a student athlete it’s really difficult to manage academics while playing sports, she said. “The new rink will help me succeed academically because I’ll have more time to focus on school,” she said.
Former Evanston Township High School star hockey player, Delayon “Del” Morris, director of Evanston hockey, also spoke about the opportunity to play at the new center. “I grew up in Evanston, played hockey there since 1985,” he said.
“Evanston hockey has been everything to me. It’s brought me to everywhere I’ve gone – college, played juniors, and where I am today,” he told Council members.
As a coach at EYHA for the past 10 years, “we’ve been a strong participant in the NHL [National Hockey League] diversity program,” he pointed out, “which means we basically try to give hockey to every person that is willing to play, be it girls, ethnic backgrounds, we try to make that happen through our NHL diversity program.”
Girls have particularly flourished, he said. “The girls that have been in our programs are now at Dartmouth, Penn State, getting scholarships and things like that.”
Having CYA at the rink is only “going to bring more girls into this program and give them more opportunities at the college level,” he said.
Several speakers at the meeting urged aldermen not to approve the agreement with CYA, charging the program was an elite one and raising concern about residents taking a backseat on ice time at the new center, which is being funded largely by taxpayers.
“Why are we promoting and allowing an association like this to enter in and use our community center when we say we’re looking at everything through the lens of equity. That just doesn’t sound like Evanston to me,” said Leslie McMillan, one of the speakers.
Mary Rosinski, another speaker, said her opposition wasn’t intended to “counter anything the girls said” about the opportunities hockey opened up, but rather one of economics. She urged officials to reopen the agreement to negotiate on ice time cost.
When “you look around and see where ice rinks are at, the North Park Ice Arena, is at minimum $460 an hour, not including amenities, she said.
“We have a huge building [at Crown].That facility is going to cost us $3 million a year [to pay off the bond issued for the project] starting in two years, and we need all the revenue,” she said.
In the agreements with the hockey groups, City officials said that a schedule has been drafted to accommodate the needs of all ice rink users and to balance the time slots available between public use, rental use and program use.
The schedule allows “for plentiful public skating hours as well as use of the rinks by the various users at times that work best for their needs,” officials maintained.
In Council discussion of the proposals, Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, whose ward borders the new center, noted that Northbrook charges $325 an hour to groups for ice time and Winnetka $235 for an hour and half, both under what the City would be charging.
She said she was pleased to see that the City agreement calls for some after-school time as well as what would typically be in-school time “for our younger residents who want to skate.”
She sought specifics about public skate time on Saturdays and Sundays “when I assume most of our residents are going to be around.”
Interim City Manager Erika Storlie said that Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, is about 75% of the way, working out a compromise among the different users.
She said the proposals would maintain ice skating access for after school and for children during the day at the pre-school.
“The great thing about the new facility is that there will be two large sheets of ice, whereas right now we only have a sheet and a half, and one rink has a curtain so it splits in two,” she said. “So in a sense we’re going to have the ability to have greater usage of all the ice times than we currently have, because at times we’ll have three different users going on at the same time” because of the larger capacity.
She said officials don’t anticipate competition for ice time during the non-hockey season.
During the hockey season, however, “we are trying to work with all the users to come up with a good compromise because we are trying to maximize the revenues during that prime revenue-generating season,” she said.
(During the fall-winter hockey season, the schedule in the Council packet, for instance, shows hockey time for CYA from 7:10 to 10 p.m., on Monday; 6 to 7 p.m., on Tuesdays, and from 8 to 1:30 p.m., on Saturdays and Sundays.)
Ald. Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, parent of hockey and figure skaters, noted that figure skater use of the facility is generally early morning, meaning not as much overlap on the hockey time slots.
“Certainly it appears there will be significant time for the general community to use it,” he said. “Of course the general business model here is to have more ice time available and rent more ice time out and generate more revenue to help pay for this rather expensive endeavor. We need to make money to pay for it. That’s part of the business model.”
Ald. Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked Ms. Storlie to address allegations some residents raised about elitism and the high cost of participating in the CYA program.
Ms. Storlie noted testimony earlier in the evening from young student athletes at Evanston Township High School about positive experiences in the program.
CYA brings girls into the program, which is a very positive thing, said Ms. Storlie. “My experience with them has been overall very positive,” she said. “I think they are very dedicated to what they do and I think they try to do it at a high level.”
“It sounds like they are from other states, even when people are discussing. I mean they are Evanston residents, taxpaying Evanston residents and I think we should support them,” she said.