Private-public partnerships took the forefront at the Nov. 16 City Council meeting on goals, as aldermen agreed they needed the help of Citizens for a Greener Evanston (CGE) in order to meet the goals of the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.
In short order they also agreed to seek private funding to the extent possible to build a new Robert Crown Center on the southeast corner of Main Street and Dodge Avenue.
While there appeared to be consensus among City Council members for these two goals, aldermen remained divided on the future of the lakefront – whether the City should implement the Lakefront Master Plan approved last year or seek more revenue-generating activities there.
Carolyn Collopy, the City’s sustainability coordinator, recapped the City and community goal of reducing carbon emissions throughout Evanston. The goal of the Mayors’ Agreement – created locally but signed by mayors throughout the country – was that the signing communities abide by the Kyoto protocol of reducing carbon emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.
CGE – composed wholly of volunteers – created the City’s climate action plan adopted by City Council last year.
By using 2005 levels and "back-casting" to 1990, said Ms. Collopy, CGE calculated that the community should reduce its carbon footprint (or greenhouse-gas emissions) by 13 percent in order to reach the Kyoto goal.
Some progress has been made, Ms. Collopy said. The City has received grants to help income-eligible homeowners weather-proof their homes. In addition, Commonwealth Edison has selected Evanston as one of 12 municipalities to participate in its "Smart Ideas for Your Business" program. Under that program businesses receive rebates for certain energy efficiencies they implement in their businesses.
Ms. Collopy also enumerated certain aspects of sustainability she thought the City should pursue, in collaboration as much as possible with CGE: Push to get businesses connected to ComEd’s energy-savings programs; connect low-income residents to the weatherization program; bring the City’s larger institutions into the Climate Action Program by having conversations about mutal projects; decide on whether the City should pursue with Northwestern University the creation of an offshore wind farm, and if the decision is not to pursue one, then seek other sources of renewable energy. Finally, Ms. Collopy said, "We have to look at an 80 percent reduction [in greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050. … If we get serious and if we all work together, we can do it."
Thought to be on its last creaky legs for more than half a decade, its structural weaknesses and challenges studied and scrutinized for at least that long, the dilapidating Robert Crown Center may be neither revamped nor rehabbed but reincarnated a few hundred yards to the west of its present location.
Built in 1976, the 60,000-square-foot recreation center is home to two ice rinks, a gymnasium, and several rooms used for childcare, community meetings, and for sports and recreation programs.
It is not ADA-compliant, and it has structural, electrical and mechanical failures, as well, said Parks/Recreation and Forestry Superintendent Doug Gaynor. He presented the Council with three options: updating the center with repairs, completely renovating it, or developing requests for qualifications or information to reconstruct it.
With little discussion, Council members followed the lead of City Manager Walter Bobkiewicz, who said, "We should make this a national project – and do it with no City money. … [We should] try to find a company to design, build, operate and finance the project with no cost to the Evanston taxpayer. "
Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said, "I agree completely – this should be a top priority. The facilities are inadequate. We have lost revenue opportunities, and there has already been interest expressed from outside companies."
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said, "I agree 100 percent with the idea that we can’t spend taxpayers’ money. … There will be some great economic development opportunities for the businesses [at Main Street and Dodge Avenue]."
Saying she did not have enough copies for everyone, since she had received the proposal only an hour before, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl distributed to aldermen and at least one member of the audience a proposal from a private company to rebuild the center.
During citizen comment, Mark Metz, chair of the Robert Crown subcommittee of the Playground and Recreation Board, urged the aldermen to take a "leadership position in the reconstruction of Robert Crown. … Once you take the leadership position, there will be interesting possibilities – a private-public partnership, private funding and philanthropy – ways to move the project forward."
Discussion about the future of the lakefront centered on whether its uses should remain passive for the most part or become revenue-generating and thus more active. Several aldermen called for implementing the Lakefront Master Plan, adopted last year by City Council. That plan retained the parks and shore for passive use, enhancing access to the lakefront (including boat storage and boat ramps and kayak landings), improving the washrooms to be ADA-compliant, and creating new, separate pedestrian and recreational bicycle paths. These and other improvements in the plan will be implemented over several years as money becomes available.
At present, City policy limits lakefront "activities" to a total of 21 days per year. Some of these activities, such as the Lakeshore Arts and Ethnic Arts festivals and the Starlight Concerts, are City-sponsored.
Several residents who live near the lakefront urged Council to do no more than implement the lakefront plan. Frank Cicero said, "I welcome people coming to the lake – a lot of people from lots of different places. We ought to encourage that kind of access, ought to implement the master plan." He added that he would "prefer [that Council] keep these presumptions: a presumption against [building] additional structures at the lakefront; a presumption to minimize noise and prohibit some noise-generating activities, such as jet skis and parasails that provide minimum enjoyment and maximum [noise] discomfort; and limit commercial activities to those that "don’t cause permanent damage" [to the lakefront]."
Ald. Wynne said, "The overwhelming idea of the Lakefront Master Plan was to keep the lakefront passive." She urged the Council to "implement the goal of the Lakefront Master Plan. … We have what no one else has – a passive lakefront that people can use."
Ald. Wilson said, "To me, it’s a priority to implement the plan – to preserve the asset, the lakefront. It might come at a cost – such as increased fees – but we should do this consistent with the overall plan that’s been approved."
Ald. Burrus said, "When we talk about ‘lakefront development’ as a goal, it was to implement the master plan."
Ald. Fiske said the lakefront is an economic engine, in that it draws people to Evanston.
Aldermen Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, appeared to favor hearing about additional revenue-generating opportunities, such as concerts. Ald. Rainey said she would like to see "a list of requests we’ve turned down, especially revenue-generating activities. I think James Park is underused for entertainment activities."
Ald. Holmes said she would like to see the what organizations currently use the lakefront for activities on those 21 days.
Ald. Jean-Baptiste said he would like to see the Evanston Art Center, located adjacent to Lighthouse Beach, pay more than its dollar-per-year rent.
When Mr. Bobkiewicz asked whether he should alert Council to requests to use the lakefront, Ald. Wynne said, no, and that she would choose not to allow additional commercial requests to use the lakefront. Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, "We have to be open to options rather than foreclosing them."
Ald. Wilson said, "I don’t think anyone would want to preclude you from bringing us interesting ideas." Ald. Rainey said, "Any activity that comes to us should be shown to us."
Ald. Wynne, though, held firm. "Part of the reason you develop a plan is so that when you get the ‘big wow’ [offer], you’ve taken ownership of the lakefront and you’ve decided what you your position is."
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she was interested in having lakefront development as one of the Council’s goals. "My idea was finding the highest and best use for the lakefront – finding a balance between passive and commercial uses." She said her two priorities were "implementing the master plan, and [ensuring] access, maximizing uses by all our residents so we all understand that this is an asset for all of Evanston."
Ald. Holmes words ended the discussion: "I think we should ask the City Manager and the new leadership to actively look at everything."
Next goal: City/University relations