The following was enclosed in an email from District 23 County Commissioner Anne Bassi:
Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Update
Board of Commissioner discussion and vote
March 13, 2012 10th floor 18 N. County, Waukegan
10:30 a.m. or 30 minutes after the Lake County Board meeting adjourns
Following the lack of response to the RFP (Request for Proposals) for private sector proposals to develop a golf course on the Ft. Sheridan Forest Preserve, the Board of Commissioners will discuss, and vote on, the next step(s) at our March 13, 2012 meeting. The Board will consider our staff recommendation that we begin negotiations with the U. S. Army to amend the portion of the deed restriction that addresses a golf course.
The specific wording of the restrictive covenant on the use of the property is: “The land herein conveyed shall be a golf course and recreational open space in perpetuity and not devoted to another use …” Forest Preserve District staff is recommending that we ask the U. S. Army to remove the portion of the covenant that reads “a golf course and”, while retaining the portion that states “the land herein conveyed shall be recreational open space in perpetuity and not devoted to another use ….”
The 259 acre Fort Sheridan Preserve was transferred to the Forest Preserve District by the U. S. Department of the Army in three increments between 1999 and 2001; the District received the final deed in 2002. The property included Lake Michigan beachfront, bluffs, ravines, open space and golf course, and the transfer was subject to a deed restriction stipulating that use of the property is restricted to recreational open space and a golf course. Forest Preserve maintenance of the Ft. Sheridan Cemetery was also part of the transfer agreement.
The Forest Preserve District has spent years exploring options for developing a golf course on the Ft. Sheridan property in a fiscally responsible way, and in compliance with the deed restriction that accompanied the transfer the property. We have analyzed the financial implications for different types of courses to determine if there were any development options whereby user revenues would cover the cost of course development, operation, and debt service.
The golf market decline pre-dated the overall economy’s decline by around five years. Perhaps this is a temporary change in the market, or perhaps it represents a systemic change in the way people currently live their lives and do business. According to the National Golf Foundation’s article in November 2011: “Golf Industry Economy – “A 10-year snapshot”, “golf course over-supply has diluted the stagnant demand and created a highly competitive environment ….” Echoing national trends, the Forest Preserve’s four courses have experienced declining rounds annually since 2004.
The Forest Preserve’s policy is that we do not subsidize golf facilities with general taxpayer funds. Development, operating costs, and debt service for district courses are paid for from course revenues and accounted for in a separate enterprise fund. The budget for funding Fort Sheridan has always included debt funding for development of the course, to be repaid from user fees. The taxpayer dollars allocated to the Ft. Sheridan Preserve were set aside for trails, restoration, parking, bridges and roads open to the general public; information relating to this preserve on our referenda dating back to 1993 confirms this. The funds expended to date on design and feasibility of the golf course were allocated from interest earnings and other non-taxpayer dollars.
To date, approximately $7.8 million has been expended at the Ft. Sheridan preserve, including restoration of Hutchinson Ravine (for which the District won national awards), Janes Ravine, roads, trail bridge, a Lake Michigan bike/walking trail connecting to the McClory Trail, a wood chip trail along the wooded ravine, a storm water management channel to protect the restored ravines from future erosion, education and historical exhibits, demolition of structures, dirt and debris pile remediation and litigation costs.
I understand that there are strong feelings and passions on all sides of the debate on this issue, and all of the arguments have merit. However, at the end of the day, there are no viable options for building a golf course in a fiscally responsible way. We need to bring closure to the golf course issue before we can develop a new master plan by bringing stakeholders together to vision the type of preserve that will be an asset for neighbors and a treasure for County residents. I will be voting in favor of negotiating to have the covenant amended to remove the portion addressing a golf course.
- For more information on the Fort Sheridan Preserve, the District has created a link on its homepage www.lcfpd.org
- You can post your comments for Forest Preserve Commissioners at Fort@LCFPD.org.
- A PowerPoint presentation reviewing the history of the 259-acre Fort Sheridan property can be accessed on the Forest Preserve’s website at http://www.lcfpd.org/docs/2011-3%20Fort%20Sheridan%20project%20history.pdf
- For a “virtual tour” of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve improvements to date, visit the link below where you can view images, learn about the preserve’s trails, educational exhibits, cemetery, lakeshore, natural resources and ongoing restoration efforts.
- Extensive online information about the military and natural history of Fort Sheridan is available at www.ExploreTheFort.org
Anne Flanigan Bassi
Lake County Forest Preserve Commissioner