Interest may be slim in Fort Sheridan golf course

Updated 8/10/2011 6:05 AM

Given that it will cost an estimated $10 million with minimal annual return, it's unlikely there will be any takers to build a 9-hole golf course at Fort Sheridan, a consultant informed Lake County Forest Preserve District officials.

But work continues on the details of a request for proposal to be sent to golf development and management companies, with a draft for review expected by the end of September.

"The responses will be, 'You build it on your dime, and we'll operate it for you,'" Ed Getherall, of the National Golf Foundation told members of the forest district's finance committee during a recent meeting. "They're going to respond they way they want to respond. You may find some proposals you could use as a framework."

During a sometimes spirited discussion, the committee gave direction on some aspects to be included in the request for proposals, such as that the course be built to Audubon standards and that the forest preserve logo be associated with it.

The committee determined a banquet facility would not be part of the project, for example, and were undecided on other aspects, such as whether the course eventually should be given to the district.

Other issues involve whether the district should somehow monitor the greens fees or let the market determine that.

The course would be built and operated by a private entity but would be owned by the district.

A 9-hole course with expanded public trails was a compromise reached by a special committee comprised of various interests that met for a year.

A consensus could not be reached on whether to build an 18-hole course or leave the 250-acre property as a traditional forest preserve. The group estimated it would cost $10 million to build the course that would generate about $20,000 a year in profit.

Getherall said most requests for proposals these days have been for entities to outsource existing operations in a saturated market where courses are sold for 20 cents on the dollar.

"It's a private business. They're taking on a lot of risk. You have to let them run it like a private business," he said.

That the discussion was even occurring was rehashed by some, who consider the RFP process a waste of time and money. The forest board in June voted 12-10 to seek the proposals in what has been a contentious issue since the district acquired the property, which includes Lake Michigan shoreline, from the U.S. Army between 1996 and 2002.

"People voted yes, people voted no for different reasons. That's fine. But direction was given to go out for an RFP and that's what we're going to do," said Ann Maine, forest board president, who is not a committee member but sat in on the discussion.

Some commissioners opposed the golf course but supported the RFP. The property was conveyed with a provision that a golf course be operated on site.

"I stand on what I did and why I did it -- it was on the advice of counsel," said Commissioner Steve Carlson of Gurnee, who sat in on the meeting. "This is something we need to do basically to protect ourselves."

Some area residents say they were promised a course when they bought their homes, and city officials in Highland Park also want a course built.

Once the RFP language is approved by the committee, there will be a 15-day public review and comment period. Any proposals would come back to the committee early next year for review in advance of a vote by the full board.

"The reality is we shouldn't have high expectations," said committee member David Stolman of Buffalo Grove.