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posted: 8/27/2010 12:01 AM

Bartlett Park District wants to buy Villa Olivia, renovate aquatic center

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  • The Bartlett Park District wants to buy the Villa Olivia Country Club in Bartlett.

      The Bartlett Park District wants to buy the Villa Olivia Country Club in Bartlett.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer


The saga of Villa Olivia could come to an end if voters approve an $18 million bond issue which would allow the Bartlett Park District to purchase the ski resort and 18-hole golf course.

The deal would prevent housing construction on the 138-acre parcel. About $6 million from the bond issue would pay for renovations to the Bartlett Aquatic Center.

Park district officials describe the tax increase as $35 more per year, or $3 more a month for a taxpayer who owns a home worth $250,000. The increase would last 20 years and then come off the books.

Without the increase, the park district won't have the money for the deal, Park District Executive Director Rita Fletcher said. Between the low interest rates and the purchase price at $5.9 million for Villa Olivia, the timing is right for a vote in the November election.

"It's too good to pass up," Fletcher said.

Villa Olivia's future has remained hazy, as its owners wanted to sell the land to develop as housing. Neighbors complained, wishing to keep the land as an open space.

"Without a doubt, the land would have been used for high-density housing," park district board Vice President Steve Eckelberry said. "We're preserving open space by doing this."

Villa Olivia, at 1401 W. Lake St., was built in the early 1900s. The Corrado family purchased the country club in 1966. Several court battles with the village of Bartlett have ensued over the land's fate since 1987. It currently lies in unincorporated Cook County, nestled between Bartlett and Elgin, after disconnecting from Bartlett in the last couple of years.

The country club's owners attempted to convince the city of Elgin to annex the property, hoping they, unlike Bartlett, would allow development. The Corrado family had a $19 million deal with Ryland Homes to use part of the property to build 96 single-family homes, 246 townhouses and develop 12 acres for commercial purposes. That plan floundered.

Ownership is legally obligated to keep the golf course open until 2022 when protective covenants expire, which would allow it to be developed.

The Corrados had said the golf course wasn't profitable due to competition from other courses, including the park district's nine-hole Apple Orchard Golf Course.

Park district officials remain confident renovations will make the country club profitable and they project $200,000 to $300,000 in annual profits, Fletcher said. If the purchase is completed, Bartlett would be the first park district in Illinois to operate a ski hill.

If voters approve the tax increase, allowing the park district to borrow money and buy Villa Olivia, the park district would renovate the country club, including the banquet hall, clubhouse and ski hills and chairlifts for about $6.2 million. The park district wants to take control of the country club by the end of the year. Construction would take four to six months and wouldn't start until fall 2011.

The Federal Build America Bonds that would be issued are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law in February 2009 by President Obama. The bonds are an attempt to encourage construction by governmental agencies by offering lower interest rates.

Tying the bond issue to the aquatic center upgrades also made sense to secure lower interest rates, Eckelberry said. There was no discussion about breaking the two out.

"We only wanted to go to voters once," Fletcher said.

Residents cited improvements to the aquatic center as the top priority in a 2007 park district survey. Respondents wrote that they would travel to other villages to use more modern water facilities. Any work on the pool would be also start in Fall 2011.

"They just said it's boring," Fletcher said. "We have only have one water slide, so compare to what's out there - people are just bored."

The park district built the aquatic center in 1992 at 620 W. Stearns Road, and renovations became part of the district's master plan. The planned improvements include a lazy river, large splash pad play area and repairs to piping.

Upon voter approval, the park district would need the village of Bartlett to annex Villa Olivia. The district hasn't had any formal conversations with village officials, Village President Michael E. Kelly said. The village board will not take a formal position on the referendum, but Kelly said the village would welcome any plan to keep the golf course open and bring it within Bartlett borders.

"It's definitely an economic draw to the area," Kelly said.

Fletcher said public meetings will be scheduled to answer any questions residents may have about the referendum.

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