After a more than a decade of design changes and debate, the Lake County Forest Preserve District wants no more do-overs for a new golf course at Fort Sheridan and will ask the U.S. Army to remove a deed restriction requiring one.
With the golf industry in a continuing slide, absence of private sector interest to build or operate a course there, and no possibility of revenue covering costs if the district built one itself, forest board commissioners decided Tuesday to cut their losses.
The board voted 21-1 to ask the Army to remove the deed restriction with the intent of developing a master plan for the site to include trails, scenic overlooks and other amenities.
"Golf is not feasible anymore," Commissioner Diana O'Kelly said. "For us to be building a golf course would be absolutely ludicrous."
Commissioner Brent Paxton was the only dissenter. "We're taking the easy way out," he said.
Commissioner Angelo Kyle was absent.
The vote followed comments from more than a dozen people, mainly Town of Fort Sheridan residents, who said they expected a course to be built when they bought their homes.
"To go back to the Army at this point is not fulfilling an obligation, not fulfilling what is right to do," said David Goldstein, a resident of Fort Sheridan. The community of about 500 homes is split between Highwood and Highland Park.
Officials from Highland Park also noted the land transfer was based on a development plan, determined as a partnership, that included a golf course.
"The partnership is clear -- it's with the city of Highland Park and the city of Highwood," Highland Park councilman Steve Mandel said after the decision. "They're trying to bypass us and go to the Army, and that's irresponsible."
Several commissioners said they understood the sentiment of residents and municipal officials, but it would be in the best interest of all taxpayers to remove the restriction.
Forest district golf courses are supposed to be self-sustaining, officials stressed.
"I do understand why everyone is frustrated and angry," said Commissioner Anne Bassi, of Highland Park. "Despite the skepticism, there is no fiscally responsible way to build a golf course."
The land, which originally included an 18-hole golf course, was transferred to the forest district in three chunks with the stipulation a golf course remain. The course was closed in 2003, in part to accommodate development of Fort Sheridan.
Golf rounds at four district courses have dipped 23 percent the past five years and revenues dropped by 19 percent during that time. Overall, the amount of revenue minus expenses has fallen 73 percent, according to the district.
Commissioners agreed the idea is no longer financially viable and the best way to make the property available to the general public was to drop the golf course as a consideration.
O'Kelly and other commissioners who were on the board when the Army began transferring the property in 1998 agreed a once well-intentioned plan no longer was practical.
Commissioner Audrey Nixon, who long supported 18- and 9-hole plans for Fort Sheridan, said it was time to move on.
"I believe myself that this board has done everything we can do to build this golf course," she said.
The district estimated $1.4 million has been spent on consultants related to the development of a golf course and legal fees associated with the site. In late 2004, the district rejected bids for an 18-hole course that were more than $5 million over budget and was unable to redesign one that would be self sufficient.
In 2009, the district established an advisory committee. After meeting for a year and a half, a majority of the group recommended a nine-hole course interspersed with trails.
A request to build that option was sent to 905 golf course builders, contractors and others but received no response.
Some commissioners said government gets a negative perception for perpetuating mistakes or not doing what it needs to do.
"Contracts are often renegotiated because conditions change," said Commissioner Pat Carey.
Golf: Plan for 9-hole course didn't entice even one of 905 builders