The Evanston Baseball and Softball Association announced Monday that it would withdraw its proposal to build an indoor sports facility at the former site of Evanston Recycling Center.
In a letter to the Evanston city council, members of the Evanston Baseball and Softball Association (EBSA) board of directors wrote that they did not believe they could afford to pay market rates to lease the site, as some city council members had suggested at a meeting earlier this summer.
“We started this out on a community partnership basis,” said Greg Clarke, a spokesperson for the group. “They have made it very clear they want it to be a moneymaker.”
Related: Why Evanston Needs An Indoor Sports Facility
Along with other local sports groups, EBSA first approached the city council in early 2011, with a proposal to build a nonprofit indoor sports facility at the former site of the Evanston Recycling Center. Located at 2222 Oakton St., the recycling center has been vacant since August 2010, when the when the city shut it down in order to save money.
With initial support from some aldermen, the group created a proposal for a 25-year lease from the city at a cost of $1 per year. When the proposal came before aldermen at the Administration and Public Works Committee in July, however, several council members said they were hesitant about leasing the site to a nonprofit with no possibility for revenue.
Ald. Ann Rainey described the terms as “an outrage” saying the indoor sports facility would be a loss to city tax rolls at a city where she believes a for-profit operation could bring not just lease income but property tax revenue.
“I will never support it, I will do everything to defeat it,” said Rainey, who represents the eighth ward where the property is located.
Ald. Delores Holmes (fifth ward) agreed with Rainey, saying she, too, could not support a lease of $1 per year, while Ald. Coleen Burrus (ninth ward) described the terms as “shocking.”
In their letter to the city council, EBSA’s board of directors said they believed the aldermen’s reaction was “a dramatic change” compared with the initial support they believed they had from the city council, before the terms were fully hashed out.
“We’re very disappointed in this turn of events," Clarke said. “No one knows what the market rate is for a closed recycling center."
Furthermore, Clarke and the board of directors say that paying market rents would be “completely uneconomical for the project and its sponsor organizations.” Under the proposal, EBSA would have operated the indoor sports center as a non-profit. Operating funds were to come from the local sports organizations that have teamed up on the project (including Evanston Wildkits Football, Evanston AYSO Soccer and Evanston Lacrosse), from fundraising and from fees.
“We’re not closing any doors, only saying that we’re not spending any more time and money and effort going down a path that’s completely unrealistic for us, especially since we were expecting some capital expenditure of three-quarters of a million dollars,” he said.
Although the group is no longer considering the Evanston Recycling Center to be a feasible future site for an indoor sports facility, Clarke said they will continue to search for a space. With demand exceeding the space available at the Chandler-Newberger Center and Robert Crown Center, Clarke said local sports leagues like EBSA stop practicing in the winter altogether, with those kids who can afford to driving to indoor facilities in Northbrook or Chicago, for example.
That means their parents are spending money in other areas, he adds, rather than at home in Evanston.
“Last year we had over 1,400 families involved,” he said. “Absolutely 100 percent will say, ‘Yes, we need more indoor space.’”
Clarke said that EBSA is actively searching for another space, including sites in other towns.
“I can’t tell you that we have one lined up right now, but we are absolutely working on that,” he says. “We thought [the Evanston Recycling Center] was our best option.”