Will Fort Sheridan golf course plan advance?

Updated 6/2/2011 6:50 PM

Some definition of what the Lake County Forest Preserve District would be looking for in proposals to build a golf course at Fort Sheridan emerged Thursday as a key vote on the plan nears.

Lake County Forest Preserve District commissioners on June 14 will decide whether to develop a detailed request for proposal from private operators for the project. It is the latest wrinkle in a complicated, years-long debate regarding land that includes Lake Michigan frontage secured from the U.S. Army between 1996 and 2002.

Approval to issue a request for proposals is far from a done deal, as commissioners appear divided on whether a golf course is a desirable use of the property.

But some details of what the district would expect were more clearly defined Thursday during a lengthy discussion by the board's finance and administrative committee.

"There are serious, complex questions than need to be addressed as you move forward through this process," said Executive Director Tom Hahn.

Those covered about three dozen points including: the extent the district would provide public financing; whether potential licensees could make changes to the 9-hole plan recommended by the Fort Sheridan Advisory Committee; how the district protects itself if a licensee has financial problems; and, what if any control the district would have over prices, for example.

No committee vote was taken -- to ensure it wouldn't fail there and not advance to the full board for consideration -- but some key directives emerged.

Chief among them was public money would not be used to build or operate the course.

"We're not paying for construction of a golf course," said Ann Maine, forest board president, who is not on the committee but was involved in the discussion.

"There is no plan to use taxpayer dollars to fund golf courses," said committee member Diana O'Kelly. "This is a business. I'm not going to make a vote that could put us in jeopardy financially."

Commissioners also determined the district won't give an operator uncontrolled power over greens fees, and the project would not include a banquet facility.

In a big picture decision, committee members agreed the request for proposal should be limited to Fort Sheridan and not a larger management package for other district courses.

The forest board is considering the matter on the recommendation of the advisory committee, which met several times over a year and presented its findings last January.

The group could not reach consensus on a preferred use for the 250-acre property -- as an 18-hole golf course or leaving it a traditional forest preserve.

Instead, the suggestion was for the forest board to seek proposals for a 9-hole course as having the best chance of being self-sustaining.

Having a golf course of some type is included as a condition of the agreement with the Army, but the district continues to research whether that provision could be stricken.

Commission member Aaron Lawlor asked why the details of the request for proposal were being debated if it might not be accepted.

"There are some on the board who won't vote for this RFP," he said. "If we don't want to accept the answer, then why are we asking the question?"