Wilmette Harbor Needs $11.7 Million in Repairs, Park District Considers Lease
Before the Wilmette Park District opts to bid on a lease of Wilmette Harbor, it will weigh the cost of the marina’s much-needed repairs.
The results of recently-completed study commissioned by the Wilmette Park District revealed that Wilmette Harbor is in need of nearly $11.7 million worth of repairs over the next 15 years, leaving it to the Park Board to determine whether it is worthwhile and financially wise for the district to manage the marina.
According to the study, the harbor would require $48,750 worth of immediate repairs, more than $2 million within five years, over $4 million more within a decade and an additional $5.55 million within 15 years’ time.
Though the Wilmette Park District Board of Commissioners voted unanimously at its Monday meeting to accept the study’s findings, board members made few indications as to their leanings concerning a potential lease.
Wilmette Harbor, originally constructed in 1910, is owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD). The 6.9-acre harbor is currently in the final boating season of a 50-year lease to the Wilmette Harbor Association, a local nonprofit founded in 1938 expressly for the “maintenance and development of Wilmette Harbor and of the mooring facilities provided therein”.
A Ticking Clock
At the MWRD’s Sept. 6 board meeting, commissioners voted to go out to public bid in late September for a 39-year management lease, with a minimum initial bid of $67,000 per year. In addition to management rights, the winning bidder would also assume all harbor maintenance responsibilities.
Now, with detailed knowledge of the potential associated costs, the Wilmette Park Board must quickly decide how much the harbor is worth to the park district.
Park Board President James L. Brault said that the overriding reason the board is considering managing the property is that the commissioners believe they may have the unique ability to expand the harbor’s functionality by linking it with nearby Gillson Park, which is also maintained by the park district.
“The concept would be to how we could incorporate it into the greater park district mission of providing activities on the lakefront,” Brault said. “We think that we can expand the offerings beyond just what a harbor operator by themselves could do. We could create a synergy that no one else could do.”
A Burden to Taxpayers?
But some Wilmette residents aren’t biting.
On July 6, 2011, Patch ran a letter to the editor, reportedly signed by 100 residents, in which locals decried the potential harbor lease and voiced their opinion that such an agreement would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Allen Hinkelman, a Wilmette resident who said he has kept a boat in Wilmette Harbor for nearly 18 years, spoke at Monday’s meeting, questioning why the park district should be on the hook for long-needed repairs.
“Why are we fixing something that belongs to the sanitary district?” said Hinkelman. “We can spend $11 million… and it’s still their property. They built it 100 years ago for a specific purpose… Why don’t we ask them to rebuild it?... I think that we ought to think long and hard before we do this.”
Brault informed Hinkelman that several board members shared a similar sentiment.
Yet other commissioners said they thought the park district could cover the cost of the lease and repairs without digging into taxpayer dollars.
According to the board, the harbor already brings in nearly $400,000 in fees annually -- about half of what repairs would cost annually if spread out evenly over a 15-year-period.
Park Board Vice-President Darrell Graham speculated that the marina’s proximity to Gillson Park could provide creative ways to increase harbor revenue.
“We have land to expand,” Graham said. “So there are ways that you can increase the number of boat racks, for instance, to increase revenue at the harbor. To provide more opportunities for boaters to have access to the harbor.”
Other ideas that were tossed around at the meeting included applying for state and private grant funds, and issuing revenue bonds, which would guarantee repayment based solely on money generated from harbor fees.
Additionally, harbor repair fees could be as much as 30 percent lower than projected, because the study’s construction costs were submitted to reflect the high end an estimation range. Low-end calculations for repair costs would be closer to $9 million.
Still Up in the Air
In anticipation of the upcoming public bid, the Park Board has called a Sept. 20 special meeting to discuss whether the park district should submit an offer to manage the harbor.
According to the park board, the MWRD will decide which entity will become leaseholder by sometime in October.
The Wilmette Harbor Association stated in a July 15, 2011 letter to Patch that they want to remain sole leaseholder of the property.
The Wilmette Harbor Condition Assessment Report was completed by a SmithGroupJJR, a national architecture and engineering firm with Chicago offices. Brault said the report was commissioned in February and cost the park district around $40,000. The full report can be found above.
Correction: On Sept. 19, 2012, the title and first paragraph of this article were altered to reflect the fact that the total repair costs are projected to be $11.7 million, instead of $11.5 million as initially reported.