LAKE FOREST — Though he can serve no more than a pair of two-year terms because of municipally imposed term limits, new Lake Forest Mayor Rob Lansing takes a long-term view to guiding the city.
Lansing spent the better part of a commercial real estate career spanning more than 40 years evaluating the vitality of hundreds of communities throughout the country before deciding if funds entrusted to him by others should be invested there.
“I’ve spent my business career evaluating communities to see if they are suitable for real estate investment,” said Lansing. “You look at the schools, recreation, business, everything. In real estate five years is the blink of an eye. In 10 years you start to get maturity. It takes 20 or more years (of history) to learn if a community is healthy and a good one to get into.”
Now Lansing will use the same tools during his stewardship to help guide Lake Forest on a path to keep the city strong, safe and highly livable both during his tenure and when his three young grandchildren who held the Bible for his inauguration May 1 at City Hall are adults.
“In Lake Forest government has to be wholly focused on the long term,” said Lansing. “Being mayor is a real honor. I come to this with a lot of understanding of Lake Forest as a community and how it can be sustained. Men and women build communities. They can make them sustainable or they can run them off the cliff.”
Though short-term issues arise that stir passions in the community, Lansing said Lake Forest is healthy and not in danger of deterioration.
Born in Torrington, Conn., Lansing moved to Lake Forest in 1981. His wife, Kitty Lansing, is a Lake Forest native. After working for LaSalle Partners—now known as LaSalle Investment Management—for seven years, he started Westminster Capital LLC in downtown Lake Forest in 1988. He has been heading it since.
Westminster acquires, owns and manages commercial real estate properties like apartments, senior living, medical office buildings and more, according to Lansing.
Not long after moving to Lake Forest, Lansing got involved in the community. He spent more than 30 years on a variety of boards and commissions as well as two terms as an alderman from 1998 to 2002.
While taking time away from government to concentrate on Westminster and its growth, Lansing still served on several ad hoc commissions dealing with zoning in the central business district and development of the cultural corridor on McKinley Road between Westminster Road and Illinois Road.
When it comes to leading the Lake Forest City Council and setting a tone for City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. and his staff, Lansing said he has four guiding principles starting with sustaining the safety and security of the community.
Maintaining the city’s strong financial condition—Lansing said it is very strong—is also critical. He said the need for economic vitality goes beyond the city itself to its businesses and other employers.
The other two guiding principles are doing a good job of delivering city provided services to the citizens and building the municipal staff to do it.
“We have to continue to attract and retain the human capital to operate the city well in the near and long term,” said Lansing.
One issue that is stirring a lot of strong feelings in town is the proposed impact of adding three daily round trips on the Amtrak Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee running on the rail line going through the west side of Lake Forest. Lansing said it is a citywide issue.
“We have three rail lines that run through Lake Forest,” said Lansing, referring to the Metra running through downtown Lake Forest, the Union Pacific freight line paralleling Highway 41 and the tracks on the west side which have passenger and freight service. “We have a number of homeowners who live in proximity to those lines.”
The three rail lines as well as both Interstate 94 and Highway 41 make five north-south arterial transportation corridors transverse Lake Forest. Lansing said the city does not control.
“Our long-term effort is to try to influence the evolution to the benefit of Lake Foresters or to ameliorate the impact,” said Lansing. “We have to rely on the power of persuasion.”
In an ideal world, Lansing said Lake Forest will get additional Metra express service in Lake Forest, southbound rush hour trains on the west line and an Amtrak stop. Along with that, if there is any impact additional on residents who live hear the tracks, he wants it kept to a minimum.
Another key long-term issue for Lake Forest as well as the state’s other municipalities is the sustainability of police, fire and municipal pensions. Lansing said the day he was sworn into office the city needed to deal with the issues arising from a “low functioning state government.” Pensions are one of them. Other towns will feel the strain before Lake Forest.
“Lake Forest is in a financially sound condition with reserves which are very large,” said Lansing. “Lake Forest will be just fine. Lone before Lake Forest feels a financial challenge other towns are going be unable to meet their obligations in two, three, four years.”
Since the state created the pension system, Lansing said the solution will have to come from Springfield and it will have to come quickly.