City looks ahead after group’s withdrawal
Updated: December 2, 2012 6:45AM
EVANSTON — City officials are considering other offers for the James Park area near Oakton Street and Dodge Avenue after backers of an indoor sports facility have withdrawn their plans.
Evanston Baseball & Softball Association board members informed city officials in an Oct. 15 letter that they were withdrawing plans to convert the city’s onetime recycling center into an indoor sports facility. Board members cited the negative response to the proposal from some Evanston City Council members at a June meeting.
“The (City) Council’s request to pay ‘market’ rents, property taxes and additional costs, as well as fund all leasehold improvements is completely uneconomical for the project and its sponsor organizations,” they said. “Furthermore, paying market rents plus funding build-out costs does not reflect the current commercial real estate market. In short, we can go to surrounding communities for higher grade space at less costs.”
Association President David R. Campbell said factors for the withdrawal included the feeling that there “was opposition on the board” and “a total misunderstanding by some.”
At the June meeting, some aldermen expressed concerns about terms of the lease, saying the $1 a year nominal fee could be drawn out 25 years under the proposal.
Campbell said the 25-year term never entered into negotiations.
Association members said the council discussion failed to take into account the group’s pledge to spend $750,000 in a build-out of the facility and to provide annual operating subsidy and storage costs.
The efforts were in line with a move several years ago in which the association donated four scoreboards for James Park at a cost of more than $75,000, Campbell said. Following the June meeting, “we kind of regrouped on our side and said we seem to be banging our heads against the wall on this.”
But city officials questioned why the group failed to follow up.
“Certainly, after the meeting in June, I didn’t hear from the council, ‘This is not moving forward,’’ City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.
“The direction from the council was: Continue to negotiate. “There’s a process of negotiating in Evanston, which can sometimes be complicated because of competing interests,’’ Bobkiewicz said. “They chose not to come to the table. We were waiting for them. It’s just unfortunate.”
Since the withdrawal letter, city officials reportedly have received a nibble from a not-for-profit organization interested in building a large indoor athletic facility in the area, though not on the site of the recycling center that city officials regard as an asset.
“Using it for storage is not the highest and best use,” Bobkiewicz said.
In bringing the proposals initially, association officials stressed the need to have an indoor facility locally because Evanston teams use other towns’ facilities.
But Alderman Ann Rainey said the group never backed up its financialoffers.
“They said they would pay $750,000 to renovate the space.”
At 10,000 square feet (smaller than some other communities’ indoor facilities), Rainey said, “it was inadequate for what they wanted to do.”