Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik has established an advisory committee to come up with possible public uses for village-owned land on Old Grand Avenue that once was planned as home to a memorial for troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kovarik selected village Trustee Cheryl Ross to chair the panel that will generate ideas for the one-acre site that's been vacant since Gurnee's previous police headquarters was demolished in late November 2004. The Old Grand Avenue land is in a flood-prone section of Gurnee east of the Des Plaines River.
"Let's figure out what we want to do and what will work best," Kovarik said at a village board session this week. "And the committee will bring some recommendations back to the (village) board so we can move forward. We have a tiny bit of money in the budget that we'll use with whatever ideas the committee comes up with."
Plans for the vacant site have been on hold since 2010 when former Trustee Kirk Morris sued the village after his private foundation was removed as leader of the memorial effort.
Under the lawsuit settlement approved earlier this year, Gurnee's insurance carrier paid $200,000 to the ex-trustee's Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation for design work and other improvements the group made to the public land. The foundation was named for Morris' son, a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq in 2004. As part of the deal, the village agreed to remove the name "Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park" from the property and return the rights to the foundation.
Kovarik beat Morris in the April mayoral election. Morris' four-year run as a trustee ended in May.
Kovarik said she wants the advisory committee to provide recommendations this summer for "productive" uses of the former police station site. She said Ross will be joined on the committee by village Planning Manager Tracy Velkover and resident Brad Carlson, who lives in the Old Grand Avenue area, along with representatives from the Gurnee Park District and Warren Township.
Controversy over the memorial erupted in October 2009 when Morris and Kovarik began feuding. Kovarik argued that Morris' foundation accomplished little in the four years it was unofficially in charge of the memorial.
Morris was not a trustee in March 2005 when the village agreed to establish a memorial park in remembrance of U.S. military personnel who died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lights and nine flags representing every military branch were the most visible work done on the memorial from March 2005 until the dispute in 2009.