Lake County forest district gets state OK to lease office space
The Lake County Forest Preserve District could go to market with a portion of its general office building in Libertyville after a change in state law.
Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday signed Senate Bill 791, which allows the district to lease or sell all or part of its former Motorola office building at 1899 W. Winchester Road that is not required for its purposes. The forest district is exempt from property taxes and the amendment to the Downstate Forest Preserve District Act will allow it to rent the space to a commercial enterprise that will pay property taxes.
"We may be in here for the very, very long term but if we want to change something in the future, now we have the possibility," said Ty Kovach, the district's executive director.
There have been no conversations with potential tenants, Kovach added, but the goal is to lease the second floor that comprises about 30,000 square feet.
"If we have a resource, we want to maximize the use for it. We went the legislative route so there were no questions," forest board President Ann Maine said.
State Sen. Melinda Bush, a former county board and forest district member, sponsored the bill. She said estimates showed the district could save millions in operating costs and maintenance over 20 years.
"It's a really good savings," Bush said.
The district in 2010 bought the building and nearly seven acres in a corporate office park for $4.1 million to consolidate operations and reduce operating costs. Initially, the plan also was to relocate and expand the district-operated Lake County Discovery Museum from the Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda to the general offices.
"It was an excellent purchase. For what they paid for this building, it was a good deal," Kovach said.
But in the interim, top leadership at the district changed, the entire organization restructured and a $750,000 state grant that was to have been used to renovate the lower level to store the museum's archives and collections was suspended.
Kovach said structural changes needed to accommodate the original museum expansion plan were too costly. The plan now is to retrofit the basement, which includes a parking garage, lunchroom and other facilities, for permanent museum storage of collections and archives. About half the first floor -- about the same size as that at Lakewood -- would be used for exhibitions.
"I don't want somebody to think they're taking everything at Lakewood and plopping it over there," Maine added. "It's still going to be a re-envisioned museum."
Kovach shared the news about the bill signing Monday with members of the board's land preservation and acquisition committee. Commissioner Bonnie Thomson Carter said she was concerned the museum could be assessed as commercial space.
"I'm confident the museum would not be on the tax roles. It's still a forest preserve use," said Matt Norton, the district's attorney.
Kovach said he would contact Libertyville officials regarding possible users.