Referendum To Make Youth Campus A Park?
The Park Ridge Park District may ask voters for funds to convert the land to what it called badly-needed park facilities. Or, a developer could buy the whole thing. The audience was divided.
About 100 people turned out on a hot night to hear what the Park Ridge Park District plans for 6.85 acres of the defunct Park Ridge Youth Campus at 735 Prospect Ave., Park Ridge.
If those plans are to come to fruition, the park district–which includes the west portion of Niles–will have to pass a referendum for an as-yet-undetermined amount in November.
If the referendum doesn’t pass, the entire 11-acre site will be sold to developer Marc Elliott – who will buy about 40 percent of the property on the south part of the site even if the referendum is approved.
Sports field, arts pavilion, water play, platform tennis
The park district’s proposal calls for an open sports field that could be used for lacrosse or football, a performing arts pavilion, a “splash pad” water play area, platform tennis or pickleball courts, a playground, a picnic shelter and parking.
Three of the existing buildings would be renovated and used for the park district administration, dance, gymnastics and other activities and summer camp and rental space, according to a presentation by park district executive director Gayle Mountcastle.
The district asked residents to fill out a survey about the proposal; comments also are being taken on the part district website.
Mountcastle told residents seated under a canopy on the Youth Campus property that the owners of the Youth Campus – which is merging with the Children’s Home & Aid Society – entertained several proposals before choosing the joint effort of Elliott and the park district.
Part of the attraction was Elliott’s willingness to buy the entire parcel if the referendum fails.
“They didn’t want to wait until November to find out if they had a buyer,” said Mel Thillens, the park district commissioner who is leading the referendum committee.
Elliott also was an attractive partner because he owns the three lots just east of the site on Washington Avenue; as part of the deal, those would go to the park district, allowing access to the proposed park from both Prospect and Washington. His portion of the project also will move some of the property onto the tax rolls, generating revenue for local governments including the city of Park Ridge, the park district and local school districts, Mountcastle said.
Keeping costs down for taxpayers
Thillens said that splitting the parcel also will keep the park district’s costs, and the size of the referendum request, down.
“Park Ridge has a reputation as being a hard place to get a referendum passed,” he said. “We wanted to give ourselves the best chance.”
While the park district has not yet put a price tag on the project, the cost of its portion of the land in the proposal has been reported as $3.86 million.
Park Ridge below standard in amount of park land
Mountcastle said Park Ridge desperately needs more open space; it has far fewer acres of open space in proportion to its population than national standards call for and far fewer than nearly all of its neighbors. Meanwhile, several programs have waiting lists because there is no space to expand them.
“We’re not saying we think we might need this space for programming some time in the future,” she said. “We need it now.”
Several people at the meeting spoke in favor of having a park, but questioned why the district chose to work with a developer instead of trying to buy the whole parcel.
“We probably can’t afford it, but it would be wonderful,” said Val Sander.
Kathy Garcea said she also would like to see the whole property become a park, but understands it probably won’t happen.
“I’m for the park,” she said. “I’ll vote for the referendum.”
Park Board will vote whether to put referendum on ballot
Thillens said it’s too late to go back and try that because the joint proposal (the park district and Elliott) has already been accepted and the park board must vote next month to put a referendum on the November ballot.
Some who attended the meeting said the community would be better off turning the whole parcel over to private development and reaping the tax revenue.
Herbert Zuegel said that rather than single-family homes, the city needs senior housing. He’d like to see independent living condominiums for seniors, which would contribute to the tax base without adding costs to local school districts.
“It ought to be on the tax rolls because we can’t afford more programs that compete with private business,” Zuegel said.