HIGHLAND PARK — Highland Park Country Club will cease golf operations at the end of the year if the Highland Park City Council gives the Park District of Highland Park the green light on its plan to turn the golf course into open parkland.
The park district currently operates 18-hole courses at both the country club and Sunset Valley Golf Course. Both courses are losing money, and the park district made one golf course part of its master plan in 2017, according to board President Brian Kaplan.
The Board of Commissioners of the Park District of Highland Park unanimously voted July 25 at West Ridge Center to ask the city council to let the park district terminate golf operations at the end of the year.
The council will consider the request at 7:30 p.m. August 28 at City Hall.
The city owns the country club property, which the park district operates under the terms of a 99-year lease. The lease began in 2015, according to Kaplan. The city had run the club through a management company for more than 20 years since acquiring the real estate.
The country club has lost more than $1 million over the last four years, according to information provided by Liza McElroy, park district executive director. During the city’s last two years of stewardship, the combined loss in 2013 and 2104 was $455,916. The two-year total of red ink for 2015 and 2016 was $576,600. The projected loss for 2017 is $340,498.
Should the park district continue to operate the country club as a golf facility, it will require renovations of between $1.1 million and $3.39 million, according to McElroy.
Sunset Is Undergoing Renovation
Sunset is closed while it undergoes a $7 million renovation project this year, according to McElroy. She said it is expected to reopen in July 2018. The country club has served the community’s golf needs this year. Between 2013 and 2016, Sunset lost $280,062.
“Highland Park is the only community I know of with two (municipal) golf courses. We cannot support two,” said McElroy. “The community wants Sunset Valley,” she added referring to studies undertaken pursuant to the master plan adopted in 2014.
Not everyone is happy with the idea. Richard Cash, a Highland Park resident whose home is adjacent to the golf course, said he wants the city to terminate the lease with the park district. He spoke during a news conference at his home August 3.
“By terminating the lease you will be saving the taxpayers many hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Cash said in a prepared statement at the conference. “The Park District of Highland Park has taken a profitable country club and turned it into a money losing operation. In the process, the park district has not paid any rent to the City of Highland Park.
According to information Cash provided to DailyNorthShore.com at the news conference, the country club lost $88,076 in 2009 before earning $397,620 over the next three years and then registering losses in 2013 and 2014.
Lease Provides for Division of Profits
The terms of the lease provide the city and the park district will evenly divide the profits of the country club with Highland Park taking its share as rent, according to Kaplan. He said that since there has been no profit, there was nothing to pay. He also said the lease has no provisions for sharing losses.
Highland Park City Manager Ghida Neukirch said at this point the city is not considering a termination of the lease. It was created under an intergovernmental agreement between the park district and the municipality in 1996. She said fewer rounds of golf are played today than there were 20 years ago.
“We appreciate golf today in 2017 is not the same as it was in the 1990s,” said Neukirch. “Because of that the course cannot be very successful.”
Cash said he understands the longterm plan for the current country club banquet facility is to demolish the building and put offices and an expanded recreation center in its place. He said he understands the banquet business is currently doing well.
“The park district wants to close down the country club, knock down the building and build a new building for executive offices and additional recreational facilities,” said Cash.
Banquet Facilities Will Remain in One Form or Another
McElroy said there is a longterm goal to erect a new building, which would house office space, more space for recreational activities and room for banquets. She said there is no funding. Kaplan said it is at least 10 years away.
“Right now it is a pipe dream,” said Kaplan.
Events are being booked through 2018, according to McElroy. Neukirch said the city currently has reservations for activities through the end of next year.
As for future use of the country club’s golf course land, Kaplan said one of the most requested items through surveys taken are open space and walking paths.
“A great place for trails is that 100 acres of open space,” said Kaplan.