Highland Park Mayor Belsky Sets Fiscal Responsibility Aside for Fort Sheridan Golf

“I do feel that what’s proposed tonight is not feasible because it does ask for contributions from the general fund. The City of Highland Park would not make that contribution right now.  This hybrid … I would support if we could get to a consensus number and work towards feasibility. Fiscal responsibility aside, a deal is a deal. – Highland Park Mayor Michael Belsky


Soon to be former Mayor of Highland Park, Michael Belsky, has carried the ball for the Fort Sheridan golf course as effectively as running back Devin Hester carries the ball for the Bears. Shifty & elusive. Denying all assaults. Arguing the calls. Mayor Belsky aims to score a golf course. With only months left in his term after almost 8 years as mayor and 8 more on the city council, what the hell does he care anyway?

When the Fort Sheridan Advisory Committee convened, the Mayor tried to remove the Park District of Highland Park and Park District of Lake Bluff from participation. At another moment, when the public came to speak against Fort Sheridan at a Highland Park City Council meeting, he interrupted their presentation and denied the presenters accuracy and understanding of municipal finance. When Highland Park City Council members asked to be consulted before he made his final Advisory Committee decisions, his mouth piece, City Manager Limardi smirked that there would be plenty of time for their input. Then, with the orchestra playing “A Deal is a Deal” softly in the background, the Mayor ignored the public requests, the council requests and the smirking city manager’s false confidences and opted to support a golf course in Fort Sheridan.  Shifty.

Are you familiar with doublespeak, sometimes called double talk? When the Mayor spoke at this advisory meeting, as you can see from the video, we’re not sure if he was simply unprepared in his thoughts as he had hurriedly scribbled his comments during the presentation of others. Or was he just so masterful at continuing to couch his unjustified golf course support in obfuscated reasoning that nobody could deny because nobody could track what he was saying? You be the judge.

One must watch this Mayor as he holds his thumb and forefinger together saying, “we’re pretty close” when referring to a colossal annual $640,000 revenue shortfall. It is the same tone the Mayor took when dismissing the astounding $604,000 2010 annual losses at the existing city-run golf course facility.  And then, in the face of all the data that’s been reviewed declares with a straight face,  “the numbers I’ve taken out of … the audits… shows this can be funded out of the Enterprise fund if we can get it to a reasonable cost. And we’re not far apart.” None of which is accurate. Or true. Or even, to a large part, a coherent position as the mayor concludes in a fractured and mysterious way with these random and incomplete thoughts:

  • “Golf courses are open space and people will be able to walk on them”
    • So a golf course is the mayor’s idea of accessible open space?
  • “We don’t have long golf seasons, most of the time it is winter.”
    • So the golf course is just a minor interruption in otherwise unfettered use of the land during the interminable winter we endure?
  • “We should have discussions about, would you contribute the land?”
    • But we’ve been meeting for a year and a half on this. Is this the time to bring up some general strange and half-baked idea?
  • “And provide some sort of financing”
    • Financing? What kind of financing? The public does not want to invest in golf course futures. Period.
  • “Because that could be set up to fail.”
    • Almost any effort to operate a golf course is set up to fail.

And we’re not entirely sure what Mayor Belsky was talking about. But we’re pretty sure whatever he said, it will fail. Because after you get past the chorus of a deal is a deal, there are just no words left to justify this golf course.

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12 thoughts on “Highland Park Mayor Belsky Sets Fiscal Responsibility Aside for Fort Sheridan Golf

  1. If Mike Belsky and Steven Mandel feel so strongly about getting a golf course that the 500 or so homeowners in a small subdivision to call their own, then here is an idea for you. Approach LCFPD about having the land deeded to Highland Park. Then you can develop the golf course any way that you see fit. Just don’t come to Lake County looking for any money. Every dime will come from your constituents and you will be unable to pick the pockets of the taxpayers who you do not represent.

    Good luck with getting re-elected on that platform. See you at the polls.

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  2. Ed,

    Thank you for the credit you’ve given us in our efforts to prevent an incredibly poor allocation of public funds.

    Your comment about my “undisclosed position on the Audubon Society Board” is ignorant. Shame on you for this lie and your character assaults. This blog, on which you are always invited to comment, provides a completely transparent statement about who I am. Navigate to the section, About this Blog. You will find “Today, I am on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Audubon Society, an organization dedicated to both conservation and habitat preservation. I watch birds. So I am attuned to the enhancement as well as destruction of habitat locally, regionally and globally.” This section was written when I first published the blog almost two years ago. Shame on you.

    What you fail to either grasp or acknowledge is that the opposition to this issue has nothing to do with me and certainly not with the Illinois Audubon Society. Moreover, opposition to this proposed golf course comes from all quarters including residents of your town of Fort Sheridan subdivision.

    The objection to golf at Fort Sheridan is exclusively related to the over-allocation of municipal resources to golf and the real financial burden placed on the public. Although you say, “a golf course and/or banquet facility at Fort Sheridan could generate revenue that goes right back into taxpayer coffers,” the financial analysis says this is not going to happen. Even the representatives from the National Golf Association, who were consulted on this matter by the advisory committee said,” It’s a tough business to be in right now; there’s a lot of competition driving fees down; expenses are up, particularly in the public sector; municipal courses are strained to be self-sustaining.” These pro-golf representatives added, “…additional problem with Fort Sheridan is that “you are burdened with courses all around. I would be hard pressed as a tax payer to want to contribute to another course.”

    Sorry Ed, there is just nobody who will agree with you that golf will generate revenue that goes back into taxpayer coffers. Those days are past and you have to start living in the present.

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  3. Sonny, it’s no surprise Mayor Belsky considers this personal. As shown in the recent LCFPD summary report, it is the opposition which you lead through your undisclosed position on the Audubon Society Board which refuses to compromise and in fact, is responsible for the waste of the last two years (or more) sandbagging this issue. Without the “petition” that started the opposition, once the lawsuit was resolved the LCFPD could simply have moved forward with one or the other of the golf course designs they promised over the last two decades. Then we went through two years of hearings (complete with theatre politics, biased consultants, and special interests) to get to a compromise, and the opposition still won’t support it – despite the fact that alternatives, e.g. a lawsuit, will cost taxpayers more money in the long run.

    I don’t see any such organized opposition to $20 million spent to acquire and build a fishing pier at Hastings Lake. At least a golf course and/or banquet facility at Fort Sheridan could generate revenue that goes right back into taxpayer coffers.

    We’ve discussed this Sonny. You’ve acknowledged to me that if you were one of the homeowners here in Fort Sheridan, you’d be pissed, too, at the years we’ve all wasted on this — all because of an unwillingness to compromise.

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  4. This bickering is all unecessary. Build an new 18-hole Hybrid golf course on only 50 to 70 acres. Very economical to build, maintain & play. This new concept promotes & strengthens community golf by creating an incubator system to feed your other existing golf courses and attracts more people to the game.
    It’s provides simple, practical and FUN Golf!

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  5. Your comments are undistinguished and embarrassing, Honorable Mayor. I mean, really, Michael, horses asses? Do personal attacks achieve anything or advance any public discourse? I just don’t think so. Are my feelings hurt? No. But I am sorry you feel you must lash out like this.

    The City of Highland Park lost over $600,000 on the Highland park Country Club in 2009-2010. Losses have been going on for years. You might try to explain that away. But it is a fact in the city financial statements you have voted to approve but feverishly work to deny.

    The development of a golf course at Fort Sheridan will cannibalize business from Highland Park’s remaining golf course as well as that of the other communities and the other existing County golf courses. This is a statement from the County’s golf consultant. I understand that you’ve dismissed the credibility of anyone who does not agree with you. But that is what he has said.

    The proposed 9-hole golf course is lame. True, it is a unique product. But it is not one the marketplace seeks nor will it reward.

    This disputed land needs bigger thinking than what a political compromise offers. I regret most of our political leaders have not been wise enough and brave enough to step up to this issue and call it for what it is. Rather, you find it more appropriate to call a constituent a horses ass.

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  6. Dear Sonny,
    I know you fashion yourself as a financial expert,(since when did a web site developer know anything about public finance?), but given your continued ignorance as demonstrated above -let me summarize what I said.
    1) The course provides a unique product as a short course with natural features
    2)One of the courses in HP will likely go away and thereby create additional demand for the new course
    3)Open space is being provided and will double in the winter time- so you will have a place to run around and babble in the winter Sonny
    4) The County made a commitment in consideration for receiving the land
    5) it is likely that the District’s numbers are high because they went to one party and they have a bias
    6)The District is sitting on alot of cash in several funds and should contribute towards the development of the course as they did not have to purchase the property- this contribution would require that the course just cover O&M which will be supported by their enterprise fund. As such, it is feasible.
    7)If they do not fulfill their commitment rest assured in or out of office I will fight to have this land revert back to the Army and will work to have HP and Highwood develop a course.
    Sorry you cannot see a compromise when it is in front of you. However, in all due respect- you should win the Nobel prize for your efforts as you have once again proven that their are more horses asses in the world than horses- so congrats

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  7. Sonny… Always a pleasure. Yes, I was told initially this was 500 million, then was told it was close to 400 million after the sales, but if you want to find out the exact number of the retail cost of this planned unit development I will be happy to agree at your number. Lets just both agree it was several million dollars that the purchasers of the Fort Sheridan homes, condos, and townhomes paid.

    I guess you seem to think one can make their own rules in a vaccum…. Not pay taxes, a mortgage, water, sewer, and even association fees. I wish I lived in a world like that Sonny. But the reality is that niether of us do! You know the County could save the taxpayers millions of dollars if they did not make the debt payments on the bonds for the open space purchases they have made. They could make that choice but it would be just as wrong for them to go down that road as well. The Development deal in this plan included a golf course and the cost is an aquisition cost, not operations. This is owed to the residents of the Fort Sheridan Community and is part of the deed where if it is not done the land can be taken back by the army.

    The way to deal with the glut of golf courses is to have lake bluff, lake forest, and even Highand Park shut a few down. All these do not have a committment to private homeowners like the Lake County does on this property.. Sonny, this is a simple issue, A DEAL IS A DEAL just as our Mayor said! The Choice here Sonny is to support this Fort Sheridan Deal that included a golf course OR stick it to the Fort Sheridan residents and risk ending up with loosing it all!

    You lay out this mumbo jumbo about operation costs and the state of golf as a business like it is a choice for us to make and save residents money. How much will the litigation cost the County and the Forest Preserve costs if this thing implodes? Hey, maybe Lake County will just walk away from this property just like they seem to be walking away from this golf course. It has always been my position that they would rather spend our money in other areas of Lake County then down here…….

    Mayor Belsky laid out a plan that provides a true compromise that the Fort residents are willing to agree too.. BUT, not you. All or nothing, right Sonny? Compromise is a useful tool for most reasonably folks. I sure hope because of you we don’t end up with the army taking the land back and all the open space myself and many other officials have worked very hard to acquire for public use turn into a housing development. Happy New Year and hope you try to compromise and stop being so Anti-Fort Sheridan Community.

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  8. Steve thank you for your perspective.

    We can dispute the policy issues in this matter. We are all entitled to our own opinions. It is not surprising to have land use disagreements. But you are not entitled to our own facts. So I’d like you to clarify this:

    You wrote, “You two are sticking it the Fort Sheridan Residents who did pay for that open space without a dime of your help at a cost of over 400 million dollars.”

    1. There are about 500 residential units in the town of Fort Sheridan. If this community divided this alleged $400 million dollar cost, it would average $800,000 per residential unit. I do not believe that each residential unit has paid, or is obligated to pay, $800,000 for anything. You have to explain this one, Steve.

    2. Writing “ that the Fort Sheridan residents paid for this open space is, simply, incorrect. If you believe this to be the case, you’ve got some explaining to do.

    My second concern is your effort to characterize this issue as “not about operations and enterprise fund.” I believe this is all about operations. The discussion about Fort Sheridan would fare much better if all parties involved would confront the economic issues as forthrightly as have Lake Forest and the Village of Lake Bluff Park District.

    And while we would all like the revenue of this proposed municipal course to be as great as possible. It has been shown that a net increase in golfers is not likely. And that the proposed course will reduce revenue at all neighboring golf courses. Further, these communities have told us that this reduction in revenue will begin affecting services. That is what this is about.

    You are a councilman of Highland Park. And as one of your constituents I’m telling you that your choice to support a new golf course is not in the interest of the city you represent.

    I agree with you that the Fort Sheridan plan is one of the best open space, historic preservation, environmental remediation deals put together in Lake County. Perhaps in the state or the country. That’s what makes it so important to get it right. Building a new golf course at Fort Sheridan is not right.

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  9. The 5+ year spin by Anne F. Basse and Sonny Cohen continues to prompt Lake County and the LCFPD to continue to default on their obligation to maintain golf course as part of the aquisition obligation of the Fort Sheridan open space property. This situation is beyond outragous and is fundimentally and morally wrong. You two are sticking it the Fort Sheridan Residents whom did pay for that open space without dime of your help at a cost of over 400 million dollars. If I have to continue to pay my mortgage, Lake County taxes, and all the assorted fees to live in my home in Highland Park and Lake County, why shouldn’t the LCFPD have to continue to maintain a golf course to keep the Fort Sheridan property? Mayor Belsky is 100% right on this deal being broken by Anne Bassi and Lake County Government.

    The core issue is not about operations and an enterprise fund. The core issue is about the acquisition money needed to fullfill the obligation (maintaining/now building a golf course) of purchase of this 100 plus million dollar open space property.

    Sonny and Anne…… Instead of trying to break apart one of the best open space, historic preservation, environmental remediation deals ever put together in Lake County, why dont you focus your energies on just creating one more. I am just glad you folks weren’t involved when we created the Prairie Wolf Slough, Skokie Woods, Highland Park Country Club, and others or they might have never been a reality.

    Stop being destructive and support the fundimentals of this great Fort Sheridan deal and the Golf Course. Thank you for providing me this forum.

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  10. If this made financial sense, there would be private developers clamoring for the opportunity to create a golf course via a PPP. However, as all see this as a money pit, the intelligent decision is to ditch the idea of golf. At an absolute minimum, the property should be land banked for another several years and then re-assessed before making a final decision.

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  11. It’s extremely difficult to please all sides in these types of contentious issues. But here’s a solution that may provide some resolve, and frankly, you’re making this all to difficult and complex.

    As we’ve mentioned before:
    Consider the new Hybri-lite golf ball, designed to remedy situations such as this.
    Developed for new eco-friendly Hybrid (mid-distance) golf courses, allowing significant golf course construction cost savings to municapilities through, reduced land-use, reduced water & chemical applications and safety issues, yet provides quick, affordable and enjoyable golf to your customers for a modern sustainable golfing environment.

    With this practical approach an 18-hole Hybrid golf course can now be built with a minimum budget, but realize maximum profit and also keep most of your residents happy.

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