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Wilmette Park District Won’t Pursue Harbor Lease

High costs and public outcry reportedly lead to the decision.

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.

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melanie Lewis September 21, 2012 at 05:58 PM
11.7 million is not too much money. Some vacations cost that much. I made tacos today with more than 11.7 million dollars. It's the Harbor that overlooks the village, what else could be better than to renovate it, esoterically. Many people can learn to manage it, instead of fear of hidden costs, or inexperience. It is in the village. Good example of a worthy investment. Even of it not managed well enough over the next 39 years, can you honestly think of a better investment? Air quality could improve, that is part of what President Obama said he would take care of. The shores of Chicago. The Harbor houses the Wilmette Shore. I don't get it. You won't miss 11.7 million dollars, when it comes to health, property value, and enjoyments of life.
melanie Lewis September 21, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I meant that the health benefits of a renovated harbour, a political fulfilment would be honoured, as said by President Obama. The property asset value would only increase. A cleaner air quality would benefit villagers, from the renovation. It would spear head other innovations that are actually good for you. The next 39 years could become the best years of your life. Forget inexperience, you probably have paid more on vacations, or other frivolity. I think it's a blessing to have a 67,000 annual leasing, 11.7 million renovations need, and inexperience or apprehensions about hidden costs. The harbour is worth a billion dollar investment. I would invest it. Think about it how many irrelevant ventures are you into that could replace the harbour? Just saying. I don't live there, but I care about people's health and well being, and that's why I would invest in it.
melanie Lewis September 21, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Pretty pretty pretty pretty, soft soft soft soft. Clean water, pretty pretty soft soft. I love Wilmette, your're worth it. Safe Harbour, pretty pretty soft soft. :)
Narda F September 21, 2012 at 07:49 PM
What are you rambling about, Melanie???????
Jeff September 21, 2012 at 08:13 PM
9 to 1 spoke in opposition to the Park District involvement. The primary purpose of the harbor is as a settling basin for sewage outflow--read community toilet bowl. It upside in capacity is severely limited. WPD listened this time and got it right.
Sea Ray September 22, 2012 at 09:54 AM
Harbor and Marine operations is best managed by non-Taxpayer funded goverments. Even the Chicago Park District understands this. You could of paid me $67K to tell you That the sea walls from the 1930's are old and in need of a upgrade. With the fallening lake water levels and old worn-out concrete, best to walk away from this 39 year lease contract. Hurray Bahai Beach is Saved !!!
melanie Lewis September 22, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I hope I wasn't rambling. I'm just saying Narda* That the harbour should be saved. And upgraded:)
NHL September 22, 2012 at 07:43 PM
bahai beach saved???? for who? G-d forbid anyone steps foot on it.... private security hired by non-tax paying religious sect keeping the public off what is theirs in the first place.....
Sea Ray September 22, 2012 at 07:53 PM
You need to arrive by boat or kayak only. We wave at the Temple security guard as he sweats patrolling Bahia Beach. On a nice day there's 50+ boats parked on the sand bar, wave as we cruise by Libby, I'll pick ya up
NHL September 23, 2012 at 02:58 PM
once, me and my wife landed via canoe and had hoped for a nice evening picnic on the beach... yep, private security kicked us off... landed other times via power boat and canoe and the result was the same.... but, sea ray, i'll keep you in mind!!
Narda F September 24, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Are you trying to be Gertrude Stein, the "literary genius", hahaha?

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