On and off for 3 years, Winnetka residents and park district officials have sparred over plans to renovate the beachfront at Elder and Centennial parks.
And that’s nothing $3 million would change.
A multimillion donation offer from polarizing property owner Justin Ishbia created an unsurprising stir on the Winnetka Park Board’s meeting on Thursday, Sept. 21. Commissioners Colleen Root and Warren James again traded statements and disagreements, while residents questioned the sincerity of Ishbia’s offer.
Eventually, the Park Board might want to vote on whether to just accept the donation and any attached terms; nonetheless, no such vote was taken Thursday. Commissioners chosen a negotiation team — featuring Board President Christina Codo and Vice President Eric Lussen with James as an alternate — to return to a tentative agreement with Ishbia on how and when the donation can be executed, amongst other details.
“There isn’t any downside to a negotiation,” Codo said throughout the meeting. “We usually are not committing to an end result, not committing to terms. We’ll hear what he has to say and also you (commissioners) resolve whether to just accept those terms or not.”
“This shouldn’t be a commitment in any way shape or form. We’re going into this conversation with our eyes wide open,” Codo added, referring to past collaborations with Ishbia, including an accepted but not unexecuted property exchange agreement.
The Ishbia family owns multiple parcels of land along Winnetka’s lakefront, including 4 consolidated parcels just south of Centennial Park where the Ishbias are constructing a big single-family home.
Additionally they own 261 Sheridan Road, which separates Centennial and Elder parks and is the topic of the contentious property exchange with the park district. The agreement was influential in early iterations of the park district’s Elder-Centennial improvement plans. Included louvred barriers and planter pockets drew the ire of residents, public-access advocates and native leaders before the plan was scrapped by a shorthanded Park Board.
Ishbia’s recent donation offer was made public throughout the Sept. 7 Park Board meeting. Its reported purpose is to speed up the beachfront improvements in Phases 1 and a pair of.
After the initial Elder-Centennial concept was axed, and with the land swap in flux, the park district developed a brand new three-phase beachfront plan wherein two of the phases may very well be accomplished without the property exchange. But district officials said funding was only currently available for Phase 1, or $10.2 million of improvements. And about $3 million was needed to execute Phase 2, which incorporates an ADA accessible path, fenced dog beach and more.
Ishbia was quoted in other media outlets as claiming the donation got here with “no strings.” But residents and not less than one commissioner, Root, expressed skepticism. And through Wednesday’s meeting, strings already began appearing.
In a discussion introduction, Park Board attorney Adam Simon revealed that Ishbia is involved in naming rights to the proposed fenced dog beach that may border Ishbia’s property. James said in an announcement that Ishbia expressed the interest in a phone call to him on Sept. 19, and later stated that in a March meeting, park district officials solicited the donation from Ishbia.
Root also provided a prepared statement prior to the board’s discussion, asserting her belief that Ishbia’s donation is problematic for the district and its lakefront plans.
“I don’t imagine that the donation offer is in the general public interest,” she said. “My objection to this contribution is that it shouldn’t be an unconditional gift but reasonably it’s a quid pro quo where Mr. Ishbia is paying us $3 million to implement a beach design for Centennial that gives him with a buffer.”
With Commissioner Cynthia Rapp, a daily Root ally, absent, no other commissioner expressed support for Root’s concerns. But several residents, speaking at two points within the meeting, also shared their concerns.
One resident used air quotes when saying the word donation. One other called the commissioners “tone deaf” in the event that they don’t consider the angst throughout the community related to Ishbia and the beachfront plans.
The Park Board didn’t provide a time line for when the negotiation team would meet with Ishbia or when the difficulty would return to the board.
The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.
Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage to your community.
Already a subscriber? You may make a tax-deductible donation at any time.