HIGHLAND PARK — Golf may continue for another year at the Highland Park Country Club if the city and Park District of Highland can agree on a way to share the negative cash flow.
In an unusual joint meeting of the Highland Park City Council and the park district’s Board of Commissioners October 9 at City Hall, the two legislative bodies aired their differences over the country club golf course’s future before a standing-room only crowd of more than 130.
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said while opening the meeting that the three issues for country club discussion were the golf course, flood mitigation and the future of the Highland Park Senior Center.
The council has been debating the possibility of moving senior services to the Highland Park Public Library in a major expansion or possibly the country club. The issue came off the table first.
“We are going to relocate the senior center to the country club,” said Rotering. “It will be on the top level. It will be completely redone.”
While there is no debate about using the 100 acres of the golf course to reduce the damage from flooding like there was during the rain storm July 11, the future of the country club brought contention from both legislative bodies.
Council Members, Commissioners Clash
After a lot of discussion by both the commissioners and the council members with some strong disagreements, park board President Brian Kaplan said he could agree to operate the golf course in 2018 if the city shared in the losses and they were not too steep.
“If the numbers are right I can support that and recommend it to the board,” said Kaplan after the meeting in a DailyNorthShore.com interview. “We’re going to have to study it closely.”
The park board voted unanimously July 25 to cease golf operations at its 18-hole country club course informing the city of its intent. The city did not agree and asked for the joint meeting.
The city and park district signed an intergovernmental agreement in 1996, which resulted in the city purchasing the then bankrupt Highland Park Country Club, according to Rotering. The park district had the right to lease the country club, which it did in 2015.
Both parties can terminate the lease with a year’s notice. The park district can also purchase the property for fair market value. Kaplan said the park district had no intention of buying the land. Restrictions in the agreement limit land use to a golf course or open space.
The country club has lost more than $1 million over the last four years, according to an August 6 DNS story. 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 plus an additional $200,000 because of flood damage.
Kaplan and Rebecca Grill, the park district’s natural areas manager, laid out a vision of what the commissioners want to do with the approximately 100 acres of land should everyone come to an agreement to close the course. It would be replaced with passive recreational open space.
Open Land Park Planned
Grill said the vision is for the land includes walking and bicycle paths as well as native plantings. It will take a year of planting, a year to develop and three years to fully grow into what the park district envisions. She said the cost is approximately $1.39 million, which the park district will pay.
Councilman Tony Blumberg said the park district must replace the golf course with another revenue-producing use or purchase it under the terms of the agreement. He acknowledged in a DNS interview after the meeting a park district purchase creates a situation where essentially the same taxpayers are paying for the land twice.
“Although the money comes from the same people we have to demonstrate our fiscal responsibility,” said Blumberg.
Commissioner Cal Bernstein said the financial losses on the golf course during both the city’s stewardship and that of the park district were a burden on the entire community.
“It’s not the city that’s bleeding or the park district that’s bleeding it’s the community that’s bleeding,” said Bernstein. “It’s your money.”
Along with the elected officials, 15 members of the public spoke offering a variety of opinions on both the golf course and senior center. Several were residents of the Legacy Club development which has homes and condominiums on the golf course. Some expressed concerns of additional crowds around their homes if the golf course closes.
Rotering suggested easements could be created to preserve the Legacy Club’s residents’ privacy.