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Wilmette Harbor Needs $11.5 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 revealed that Wilmette Harbor is in need of nearly $11.5 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 , 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.

Alternative Funding

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 they were 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 only guarantee repayment based 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 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.

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No Boat September 20, 2012 at 07:43 PM
So your only solution is to allow the WHA to do more of the same, because you claim the WPD cannot do any better ? Your argument is weak. How about just keep doubling the slip rates until there is vacancy ? Then you know you are collecting the right fees. I would love a slip at double the current rate, but I cannot get one at any price. I have been on a waiting list for 7 years with no sign of ever getting in. In the meantime, the same groups/families are enjoying below market rates. Why would anyone ever give up a slip at the current rates ? If you own a slip you can find plenty of other “slip partners” who will buy a brand new boat to park in your slip for the privilege of getting lake access, and let you use it as you please. Just really tell it how it is. This is not a matter of who can manage the property best, but rather the continuation of a subsidized private club on public property.
Narda F September 20, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Fine and dandy---but I'm not one to want to subsidize your personal lake access with my tax money, unless the harbor costs are COMPLETELY paid for by harbor users alone! There are just not that many boat slips to benefit the broader Wilmette public, sorry. I can't see that 200 or 300 boat mooring fees will pay for the proposed capital improvements and the operation of the harbor. Can you? What is in it for the rest of the 28,000 Wilmette residents, other than an unknown 39-year liability? Where is the business plan for financing all that??? Sorry, economic times are the worst in decades, and I should worry about your boat waiting list? Wilmette has more pressing problems (like fixing infrastructure, schools, etc.!) right now. Furthermore, the property will never belong to the WPD.
Jordan Graham September 20, 2012 at 08:42 PM
We've got a poll up on the site to gauge reader opinion on the the potential lease. http://wilmette.patch.com/articles/poll-should-the-wilmette-park-district-lease-wilmette-harbor
NHL September 20, 2012 at 09:06 PM
i like the idea of charging market rates (or above, considering the area) and use it to fund operation of the public beaches... ie-get rid of the entrance fees (i'm actually somewhat ok with the parking fees) and open our lakefront as it is supposed to be....
NHL September 20, 2012 at 09:08 PM
well, we came real close to losing "gorki park", and i wouldn't doubt it if they try it again.... which ain't gonna be a laughing matter......

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