The Wilmette Park District announced Thursday night that it will not submit a bid to manage Wilmette Harbor.
At the end of a lengthy Park Board meeting, which ended with a closed session, Park District Board President James Brault reportedly emerged to say that commissioners had decided not to submit a bid to lease the harbor because of the high associated costs and the public’s seemingly overwhelming opposition.
“The board had come to a consensus to not pursue the lease given the terms set forth by the [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago],” said, Steve Wilson, executive director of the Wilmette Park District, Friday. “What went into a lot of the decision making was the public sentiment that they heard throughout the process, as well as the conditions the MWRD put on it didn’t make it a very favorable proposition for us at this time.”
The MWRD, which constructed the harbor in 1910 and owns the property, recently announced its intention 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, which according to a recent report, would include paying for $11.7 million in need repairs.
Over 150 Wilmette residents, harbor members and boat owners packed elbow to elbow Thursday in a small room in the Mallinckrodt Community Center. Many had come to dissuade the Park District from pursuing a harbor lease.
Some felt that Wilmette taxpayers would get stuck with the bill for the harbor’s $11.7 million in needed repairs. Some thought that the Wilmette Harbor Association’s cost-effective management style would be lost by the inexperienced district. Many expressed anger. Many complained about the lack of a detailed plan in the face of such a large monetary and time commitment.
Others thought the Park District might sacrifice the aesthetic of nearby Gillson Park in an effort to increase harbor revenues. Several feared that mooring fees would rise.
Wilmette resident Paul Maln said the percentage of his property tax bills that went to the Park District had already risen during each of the past three years - from 6.5 percent in 2009, to 6.6 percent in 2010, to 8.8 percent in 2011.
Beth Beucher, a Wilmette resident who said she had been a member of the park district’s lakefront commission, presented the Park Board with a petition signed by “at least 450” residents.
However, a small few spoke in support of the project.
Peggy Smith, a lifelong Wilmette resident, spoke fondly of her family’s time spent out on the water and called it unfortunate that other families might not enjoy such an experience due to limited harbor space.
“We would be better served if our own elected park district had the authority to allocate mooring and provide new waterfront opportunities with input from the local community,” Smith said. “Further, I believe making this asset public would add value to our real estate.”
Thought the Park District has officially dropped any attempt to manage the harbor, the Wilmette Harbor Association announced Tuesday that it has no desire to relinquish its lease.
In a six-page message, the local nonprofit, which has operated the 6.9-acre lakefront property for over 75 years, states that is “ready, willing and able to continue to operate the harbor in the public’s interest for another 75 years.”
The association’s current 50 year-lease ends Nov. 30.