Privatizing Recreation Services In Evanston

City of Evanston will consider selling the Evanston Ecology Center, Chandler-Newberger Center, and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

How would you feel if several of Evanston’s recreation services became privatized?  I’m told there are proposals for consideration – including “letting go" of the Ecology Center, Chandler-Newberger Center, and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center – during a special city council meeting Tuesday, March 22 at 6 p.m. 

While considerations like this should come as no surprise in these economic times, when I first heard about the proposals last week via several worried emails from community members, my first reaction was, We simply cannot and should not close places like this.  At least, not in Evanston. That’s not to say changes cannot or should not be made, but selling off several cultural and recreational outposts to save money just feels wrong to me. 

I understand the economics on a basic level -- if we can’t afford something, we shouldn’t have it.  But, where my heart lies is more in the fight for what we -- as a community – represent.  Selling off some of our most beloved community gathering sites seems like the wrong answer.  But what is the right answer?  Attracting corporate sponsors to put up signage all Around Town to make some extra money? Allowing big chain stores or businesses that don't sit well with many residents?  Limiting public health and safety services?  Building taller and taller buildings?

I applaud the city council members for wrestling with all the opinions they’ll hear on community priorities, and have no doubt there will be emotional perspectives shared from every angle.  I’m also grateful to live in a town where the residents are permitted and encouraged to speak out. 

At the very heart of the matter is the concept of closing something.  Even when something closes for rational, agreed-upon reasons, it’s rarely an easy thing to do, especially if the entity holds any amount of fond memories.  Think of a great book.  Or a playgroup that ended when too many members moved away.  A senior year.   A pregnancy.  A friendship that's simply run its course.  A business.  A school.  A doctor’s office that relocates beyond your commute.  A marriage.  A playground. A train stop where you used to meet your friends.  A beach with lightning crisscrossing over the lake (or high bacteria levels).  Closing things, shutting things down, moving on, changing it up, starting a new chapter … each of these acts has the potential for unanticipated emotions rising to the surface.

No doubt the Evanston city council will be prepared for serious debate as our community presents and discusses options moving forward.  In a time when so many things are closing – businesses, opportunities, and sometimes minds – I’m grateful to live in a city where our elected officials will keep their eyes and ears open to many viable alternatives.

Richard Schulte March 21, 2011 at 02:24 PM
We've created our own financial problems and now we have to live with the consequences. Bankruptcy is never as much fun as spending somebody else's money. (To quote Margaret Thatcher (former prime minister of the United Kingdom in the 1980's), "The problem with socialism is that, sooner or later, you run out of other people's money to spend.") If these centers are not self-supporting, then it's time to say good bye to them. If this were done long ago, perhaps we wouldn't be bankrupt now.
Lydia Snow March 21, 2011 at 02:52 PM
The camps are self sufficient, but having a community arts and sports center is a city responsibility! Northwestern is the culprit here, because they own so much property and don't pay taxes. Perhaps Northwestern could help with this financial situation. It would be the perfect opportunity for them to give back to the community!
Joe Moag March 22, 2011 at 12:25 AM
I think that you are conflating the idea of the City CLOSING these places with the actual proposal by the City to PRIVATIZE these places. Closing these places means just that: closing them down. Privatizing them means eelling them off, on bids, to private interests under a contract to operate them. Seems to me that the argument should be about, if the City wants to privatize them in order to get revenue from a private operator to run them, just what specifics will be in the operating contract that the purchaser must abide by. For instance, will the city, in such a contract, mandate that the buyer hold the price of entrance low? Will the City stipulate specific programming in order to maintain the long-standing programming missions of these places? These are the real issues - and others like them - that should form the basis of debate here.
Richard Schulte March 22, 2011 at 01:45 AM
The assumption that you're making here is that there will be an operator who will be interested in these facilities. Most investors are interested in making a reasonable return on their investment-no small feat in these times. If the City can't make these facilities work financially now, can another operator make sufficient profit to make the investment worthwhile? Evanston has a notorious anti-business reputation. (Evanston is known as the People's Republic of Evanston, similar to the socialist paradises of North Korea and Cuba.) When a developer wanted to build a 47 story residential development in downtown, a citizens' group adamantly opposed the construction of the building. If we had allowed the developer to build the building, there would be more revenue for the City and downtown businesses would be in better shape financially (because more people would be living downtown)-all of which would have contributed to the tax base. Be careful what you wish for, you're wish might be granted. The developer is gone and tax receipts are lagging. The citizens' group got what it wished for, no building, and now we have to live with the consequences. A pro-business climate is important, but it's too late for that now. With all the empty store fronts downtown, things are looking worse and worse. With Illinois raising the income tax and corporate tax, the state if sending a strong signal to businesses-we don't want you here.
victoria smith March 22, 2011 at 04:51 AM
How can we justify creating the 311 center for a city of 72,000 residents? Have heard that the figures are around 3 million dollars, which to me seems alot to provide for a service that was already being provided. Thats good spending? I don't think that the high rise that was suppose to go up in Evanston was part of the down fall of our beloved city.Let's say that it did go up, whose to say that the people that bought those spaces woudn't have lost their jobs or also had a crisis with the stock market....no money, have to sell their unit, not selling and alot of empty spaces. The whole point is that the community centers do exactly that...provide for families and schools, they are part of the community and we need them. If you want to start defending the city on the things they should have done how about the fact that a business man in Evanston wanted to construct a bowling alley where builders square was...now that would have been fantastic revenue for the city, but no, that whole idea was shut down faster that a strike. It makes no sense at all. Someone must have been doing something right with our budget back in the 60's when Evanston was thriving with department stores, a few industries and taxes kept to reasonable figures. The community centers are the least of our problems !


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