Park Ridge Park District woos voters in advance of redevelopment referendum
Gayle Mountcastle, executive director of the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District, and Park Board Commissioner Mel Thillens share preliminary plans for the Park Ridge Youth Campus property July 25 before a crowd of over 90 citizens. | Jennifer Johnson~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 3, 2012 6:11AM
PARK RIDGE — A football and lacrosse field, open park space, gardens, an outdoor-theater area and a playground are all part of the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District’s preliminary plans for a portion of the Park Ridge Youth Campus.
But it will be up to Park Ridge voters to decide whether such amenities will become reality.
More than 90 citizens heard the Park District’s proposals for the northern 6.85 acres of the Youth Campus property at 733 N. Prospect Ave. during a meeting July 25 on the grounds of the campus, which recently closed after more than 100 years of providing housing and education for children.
Residents learned that the Park District would like to keep three campus buildings standing for programs and administrative functions while redeveloping the remainder of the land with park amenities, including a 150-seat area for watching live performances, such as Park District dance recitals or outdoor summer films. On-site parking would also be created.
“It’s just a great, great, old, historic piece of property,” said Commissioner Mel Thillens, who will be leading a pro-referendum committee. “The ability to keep a few of these buildings was something we thought was very worthwhile and good for the town.”
If approved the project would not be complete until 2015, according to projections shared with residents.
The Park Board plans to vote Aug. 16 on whether to place a referendum on the November ballot, asking if bonds should be issued — and taxes raised — to purchase and redevelop the property.
Residents who attended the July 25 meeting learned that if the referendum fails, a developer could likely purchase the entire 11-acre campus.
Mark Elliott, of Elliott Builders, is planning to buy the southernmost portion of the Youth Campus land for the development of 23 residential lots on roughly 4 acres. He confirmed to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate that it is his intention to acquire the entire campus if the Park District’s referendum is not approved Nov. 6.
Though there are no definite plans for the remaining 6.85-acres, single-family homes would likely be constructed there, Elliott said.
Included in the Park District’s referendum cost will be the purchase price of the property and debt service, as well as development expenses, renovation of existing buildings and demolition of other structures.
The total amount has not yet been finalized, Thillens told residents, though the purchase price for the land under an agreement reached with the Park District is $3.86 million, Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle said.
Thillens said one of the reasons the Park District partnered with Elliott Builders was to keep costs down and make the referendum “as palatable as possible to the people who might be on the fence.”
“Quite honestly, this town has a track record of not passing referendums very easily,” Thillens said.
A combination of homes and open space also serves as a “compromise between people who thought development was a good idea and open space was a good idea,” the commissioner told the crowd. “Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, (it is) kind of a compromising approach.”
Elliott said residents will be “pleasantly surprised” by the cost of creating new outdoor open space.
“When the numbers come out people will understand this is a good use of funds to preserve this land,” he said.
But resident Herb Zuegel, a longtime proponent of housing for Park Ridge’s aging population, believes the Youth Campus land could serve a better purpose.
“What this town needs is senior housing — senior independent housing, not group homes,” Zuegel told Park District officials. “We’ve tried to make this (property) senior housing for decades and that’s what it ought to be.”
Some residents said they did not want to see the entire site redeveloped with homes.
“It will add a lot more houses and there are already so many houses for sale,” said Gus Nicolopoulos.
Nicolopoulos added that if purchased by a developer the Youth Campus property could potentially remain vacant for some time.
“At least the Park District will develop it,” he said.
“And maintain it,” his wife, Karen Nicolopoulos, added. “This is a golden opportunity.”
Another resident, who declined to provide her name, said she would prefer if the entire 11 acres were park property.