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Northwestern will invest $1 million in reimagined Robert Crown Center

Programmatic partnership agreement vaults initiative past $5 million, sets stage for design process and public campaign

Robert Crown Center ice rink
The center is a hub of programs and activities that has enhanced Evanston for decades.

The campaign to build a new Robert Crown Community Center, Library Branch, and Turf Park has secured a transformative $1 million commitment from Northwestern University. The landmark agreement represents a critical alliance among the University, the Friends of the Robert Crown Center, the City of Evanston, and the Evanston Public Library. It also provides overwhelming momentum for the community-wide fundraising initiative the Friends organization is currently leading.

In their letter informing the Friends of their decision, Northwestern representatives delivered a robust endorsement of the Crown Center project, declaring the center and park to be “a hub of programs and activities that has greatly enhanced our Evanston community for decades.” The university expressed confidence that the investment “will strengthen [the Crown Center’s] social and recreational offerings and have a positive impact on the programs available to the entire community.” 

Northwestern will make its investment in the form of a programmatic partnership agreement, rather than a charitable gift, and will distribute the committed funds in three payments over three years. In exchange for this support package, the university will receive a slate of facility usage time slots and activities.

Spurred by this promising early fundraising success, the design process is now fully underway.

Nim Chinniah, Executive Vice President for the University, said “Northwestern is proud to make this investment to support the redevelopment of the Robert Crown Center. We look forward to working together to best serve our community.” Under the leadership of President Morton Schapiro, Mr. Chinniah was among the agreement’s key architects, along with Executive Director for Neighborhood and Community Relations Alan Anderson.

“When the original facility was built, the vision was for a special shared resource that would reinforce the bonds that hold families together,” said Friends Board President Daniel Stein. “With this investment, Northwestern University has modeled that same sort of visionary leadership. In joining with us now in this critical initiative, the university is fostering that same spirit of community and enabling that bold vision. We are immeasurably grateful for Northwestern’s leadership and support, and we are delighted to be working with them to help serve and strengthen the families in our community.”

Alderman Donald Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes the Crown Park, echoed Mr. Stein’s sentiment. “I am very grateful for the commitment that Northwestern University has made to our community,” said Alderman Wilson. “The Crown Center project will not only enhance the recreation opportunities available in Evanston, but the community center will make a number of resources and opportunities accessible to a geographic segment of our community that has been underserved. With the help of Northwestern and all of the donors and partners, the Crown Center will help build a stronger community for generations to come.”

With Northwestern’s program investment, the campaign has now officially raised over $5.5 million. The campaign’s progress to date is atypical in that it has successfully raised millions before planners have provided an actual design for the new building and park. Campaign leaders point to this as evidence of the community’s overwhelming desire to see the Crown project come to fruition. Spurred by this promising early fundraising success, the design process is now fully underway. After a thorough selection process, the city has entered an agreement with architectural firm Woodhouse Tinucci to produce the design. The firm has informed city and volunteer leaders it has already begun to develop initial design concepts.

The Our Community, Our Future campaign began its initial planning phase in March 2016 following an extensive feasibility study in the autumn and winter of 2015 and 2016. Its objective is to raise the necessary funds to create a completely new, modern community center on the current Crown Park property, including a new branch of the Evanston Public Library. The project also includes a re-envisioning of the park’s entire layout as well as the addition of artificial turf fields. Estimates have placed costs at approximately $30 million. The City of Evanston and the Evanston Public Library have available bond financing of $10 million and $2.5 million respectively, leaving $17.5 million to be raised through private donations, sponsorships, and institutional program partnerships. Campaign activity during 2016 focused primarily on private solicitations of potential sponsor organizations and families able to consider major gift requests. The campaign plans to increase public outreach in 2017, expanding activities to include mail and online communication as well as community events.

The campaign is led by a Campaign Executive Cabinet, which includes board members of the Friends of the Robert Crown Center, city and library officials, leaders of interest and advocacy groups, and local community members. The campaign is directed by CCS, a leading global fundraising consulting and management firm that provides fundraising, development services, and strategic consulting to nonprofit and civic organizations worldwide. For more information, contact Campaign Director Michael Happ at mhapp@cityofevanston.org.

Friends of the Robert Crown Center is a nonprofit charitable organization formed in 2016. Its application for IRS 501(c)(3) designation is currently pending, and the organization is permitted to solicit and receive gifts during this review period. All charitable contributions to the Friends of the Robert Crown Center are fully tax-deductible. The mission of the Friends is to solicit, hold, manage, invest, and expend endowment funds and other gifts, grants, and bequests exclusively for the benefit of the Robert Crown Community Center in Evanston, Illinois and the programs, activities, and services it hosts and provides. This mission extends and applies to the entirety of Crown Park, and well as the library branch to be included in the new community center building. All charitable gifts to the campaign and program investments in the project, excepting commitments from the City of Evanston and the Evanston Public Library, will be received, held, and expended by Friends of the Robert Crown Center.

The Robert Crown Community Center in Evanston, Illinois, was built in 1974. Its construction was largely funded by a significant lead donation from The Crown Family. The building and surrounding park have long served as an important social and recreational hub for Evanston and the North Shore. The Crown Center serves as a venue for dozens of sporting activities, including hockey, speed skating, figure skating, soccer, football, lacrosse, and basketball. It also hosts summer camps, preschool activities, tutoring initiatives, lunch and nutrition programs, community meetings, and many other public services. The Crown Center is the City of Evanston’s most used health and wellness facility.

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