Lake County Forest Board Questions Crowd out Answers on Fort Sheridan’s Future

“What they told me is what I knew before. This is a mess!  It’s a really difficult thing to make decisions about. “
—Lake County Forest Preserve District  Commissioner Melinda Bush

Questions were many and answers were few when the Lake County Forest Board met to ponder Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve’s future.

The Forest Board met on May 10, 2011 to discuss the future of Fort Sheridan in advance of a vote planned for June 14.  The commissioners were loaded with questions never answered by a specially appointed advisory committee that failed to reach consensus. This advisory committee’s feeble recommendation was that the Forest Board privatize a golf course operation which has been whittled down to 9 holes with the balance of the land being public access. But wait, the Forest Board is not so sure this is the question or what they should be voting upon. As some suggested the Board should be voting to not build the golf course altogether! Every issue was fair game at the committee of the whole.

The discussion was lively and most of the 20 (of 23) commissioners present were engaged.  In the end, it was clear that many questions about Fort Sheridan remained and a vote might go forward with much unresolved. The advisory board, in reaching their non-unified position, also failed to evaluate options about which the Forest Board sought information.

Read the following comments. They are all County Commissioners regarding their concerns with some answers from District staff:

The Deed

Does the 9 hole course meet the deed restriction requirements?

LCFPD Exec Director Tom Hahn said, “No. The Forest Board would have to go back to the army to discuss this option.”

Privatization

If we do go the route of privatization. What happens if the successful endeavor is not successful. Then we’re stuck with a golf course?

Forest Board President Ann Maine said, “Yes, I think that is what is happening with the Bittersweet (failed venture in Gurnee) golf course.”

Funding

  • Where would the money come for the public access development (estimated at $4 Million). County staff response:
    • “Yes, not only does the golf need a funding plan, but so, too, does the public access need a funding plan.”
  • If it is privatized, would it go back on the tax rolls.   You’re privatizing this to a private owner and then giving them the benefit of a tax exempt status.
    • “It is possible that the assessor might say this license is really a lease. And therefore it might go back on the tax rolls.”

Costs

Do we have a cost estimate if we do not turn it into a golf course. If we do keep it as a premier open space facility.

LCFPD:”No, we do not know that cost.”

Impact

  • So us  (the county) moving forward with any kind of golf course would ask the taxpayers of the local communities to subsidize their golf courses even more?
    • “Fort Sheridan golf course would go head to head with Thunderhawk and have a specific impact (on rounds of golf played).  The more this plays like an 18 hole golf course, the better it will do. But it will come at a cost to Thunderhawk”
  • “Being on land acquisition, we’ve been offered many (failed) golf courses.”
  • “We have to figure out what the calculated risk is to our district and to our neighbors.”
  • “Let the army know what the financial implications of building that golf course are and that it is not in the best interests of the taxpayers of this county.  No stone should be left unturned to have the army release us from our obligation.”

Golf Industry on Tough Times

  • “Golf right now is just tough. It is a tough business. I don’t think there is anyone here that would invest in one. But they’re (the advisory committee) asking us  to invest. When you open less (golf courses) and close more (golf courses), there is something wrong with that industry.”
  • “You talk about (failed Gurnee golf course) Bittersweet, you talk about (foreclosed) Lake Barrington Shores (golf course). LBS has a built in community and that golf course is struggling.  Bittersweet has been struggling for a long time.”
  • “On a fence on the way to Milwaukee, they are advertising golf for $7.50.”
  • “Libertyville residents are being contacted by neighboring courses and invited to play at resident fees.”
  • “Many of the municipalities that were on our committee, they are subsidizing their golf courses with large sums of money to keep them open.”

Request for Proposal

  • “To go to an RFP, it says we are going to give up control of this land.  – Which I’m not willing to do. So I’d like to understand the process that we have to go through.”
  • “If we do this RFP, are we losing control of pricing, quality,  are they going to have the standards that we want (in their effort to make this work),  are we going to get complaints from people who say how could you use public land and you’ve got these high prices.”

If, like me, you couldn’t attend this meeting, you may be able to view the entire 2+ hours at the Lake County Forest Board website or watch it here with the proper application installed:
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