Winners & Losers of the City’s Crown Project Financing

Evanston Robert Crown Project

Distribution of Crown’s burdens and benefits are strikingly disproportionate across economic lines. The City’s debt financing brings the project’s $53-55 million capital cost to $70-$90 million total cost. The funding plan places the highest cost burden on Evanston’s lowest-income families, in large part, to subsidize benefits for local officials, private institutions and wealthiest residents.

Here are the winners and losers of the City’s financing for the new Robert Crown Community Center and Ice Complex.

Robert Crown Center Evanston Beacon Academy
Source: Beacon Academy website

WINNER Beacon Academy

The local private school is getting millions in value in exchange for its $500,000 pledge. Under Beacon’s agreement (below), Crown’s gymnasium will serve as Beacon’s home gym for the next five years, with the public’s use restricted to Beacon’s unclaimed slots.

The City has advanced Crown’s construction under Beacon’s direction and terms of funding, including increasing the project’s scope and cost to add Crown offices for Beacon staff. The agreement includes a list of contingencies Beacon states are required for its funding.

In exchange for 5 annual payments of $100,000, Beacon will receive:

10-Year Exclusive Branding RightsFacility Use & AdditionsPayment Terms
“Prominent signage declaring the space to be the ‘Home of the Beacon Academy Wolves'”
Reserved access based on maximum use needs, with City “free to use” time Beacon’s “unclaimed slots”Right to cancel agreement and pledge obligations at any time, with 6 months notice
School name and logo painted on gym floor
Dedicated work space for Beacon Academy staff Exclusive right of first refusal to extend agreement terms at fixed rates.
Additional branding, such as signage on outdoor fields and scoreboardsWeight room with training station and dressing rooms
Reserved staff parking spaces

Evanston Don Wilson

WINNER Ald. Don Wilson

As a Beacon Academy parent, Ald. Wilson’s family not only directly benefits (above that of the general public) from the City’s agreement with the private school, but he actually voted himself to approve entering into that agreement (below).

Wilson has also used his official position to advocate for Beacon and the project, and to discredit public criticism on Crown’s financing.

LOSER: Ethics Enforcement

Under City law, Council members are prohibited from voting on legislation in which they, or a member of their family, have personal interest. Evanston’s Ethics laws also bar officials from their position for purposes that would reasonably appear to be for their own, or their family’s private benefit.

LOSER Affordability

The City has backed Crown’s $70M in debt so far exclusively on property taxes, raising taxes last year to make the project’s first major debt payment. That repayment doubles and triples over the next 25 years.

Each of pending tax increase by the City exacerbates its decreasing affordable housing. Evanston is one of only 7 U.S. cities where property taxes account for more than 30% of the cost of owning a home, on average. Ten percent of Evanston households already spend more than half their family income on housing. Compounding the issue is Illinois’s ranking as the most burdensome local and state taxes overall—almost 40 percent higher than the U.S. average.

WINNER Top 1% Wealthiest Households

LOSER Lowest-Earning Households

Illinois has the most regressive property tax structure in the U.S. The poorest households (earning < $25,000/year) pay nearly three times their earnings in property taxes than the wealthiest families (>$500,000/year), with middle-income households paying 238% more.

Evanston’s 5,350 lowest-income households are not only shouldering the steepest cost burden, they’re also facing loss of critical public services from continued budget cuts to repay Crown’s debt.

Last year’s recommended cuts predominantly targeted programs for children, seniors, low-income residents and other vulnerable populations, including:

Community Health ProgramsCrossing Guards
Social ServicesYouth & Senior Food Program
Job Training & PlacementVictim Services
Youth & Young Adult ServicesFire & Police Community Engagement

★WINNER Friends of Crown Directors & Private Partners

LOSER General Public

FOC directors and City staff have advanced the project’s “aggressive” timeline ahead of securing funding, or Council’s approval of funding terms.

The project’s trajectory, including the millions in added cost, has been driven by Friends of Crown directors to accommodate a few potential private partners, whose combined $2.25 million contribution represents just 2-3 percent of the project’s total cost.

Project Influence

Friends’ pledge agreements invited potential program partners “to provide input and collaborate with City staff, architects and builders…to ensure the facility is built to accommodate all anticipated needs.” These invitations were not extended to the general public.

Friends has set a $15M cap in covering the project’s $70-90M cost

The City also did not invite the general public to weigh in on the project’s course. In fact, as terms were negotiated outside of public view, taxpayers were largely unaware of changes until they were pending before Council. The City didn’t hold its first meeting to which it invited the general public until February 2019. At that time, it only presented and answered questions on decisions which had already been made by Friends of Crown and City staff.

Public Cost Share

The City is bonding taxpayers to the project’s entire $70-90 million debt repayment. Though most states require voter approval before passing on this type of debt burden, Evanston’s home-rule status allows it to bypass referenda by holding two public hearings.

However, the City never that regular bond hearing. It did hold the second hearing which allowed it to accept private contributions, but without providing advance notice to residents either directly, or through local media outlets.

Other Public Costs

Public Safety & Community Program Cuts The City Manager confirmed Crown’s debt would impact both property taxes and budget cuts, though couldn’t further specify for either. And those budget cuts listed above, as recommended by his office, include reductions in public safety infrastructure, positions and services, such as the closure of one of the City’s busiest fire stations and cutting animal control. The cut list also included sustainability programs, community arts, and historic preservation.

Future Infrastructure & Maintenance The City’s strained borrowing score and fiscal reserves limit funding for maintenance that’s been deferred on other public infrastructure, and funding for future needed projects. The City’s reserves are narrowed further as the City’s contract with Friends requires it establish a fully funded maintenance fund, to be used exclusively for the new Crown Center.

LOSER the Environment

Crown’s current plan also includes three artificially turfed fields, which require replacement every eight to 10 years. Each replacement and turf disposal adds 500,000 lbs. of rubber infill and plastic carpet in landfill waste.

Additionally, the EPDM rubber turf infill the City selected for the fields contains heavy metals (like lead) and carcinogenic chemicals. Safety testing for children remains limited, thoughenvironmental impact is conclusively adverse.

No donor funding agreement is contingent on turfed fields, and despite the public’s environmental and safety concerns, and the increased and added costs of turfing ($4.8 million for stormwater detention alone), Friends of Crown has termed it a requirement in handing over the funding it raised for the project in conjunction with the City’s publicly funded consultant.

One thought on “Winners & Losers of the City’s Crown Project Financing

  1. mjauntirans

    Hi – thanks for providing this overview. I want to mention that the draft gift and use agreements are posted on the RCCC page of the city’s website here under the Naming Rights/User Agreements section and have more detail than the original LOIs:

    The gift payments from Beacon are now proposed over 7 years, so $71,428/year.
    It’s also worth mentioning that the other $500K gift (Chicago Young Americans Hockey Organization) does not link their gift to the use agreement as Beacon’s does, nor does CYAH request such things as the Maximum Use schedule stipulation (which effectively requires the city to plan programs around them). I am concerned that the Beacon agreement, if signed by council, sets a bad precedent. Who’s to say that other donors/users don’t try to add similar clauses now?

    Thanks for your reporting!

Leave a Comment